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Speed climbing has been perhaps the most embattled of the three Sport Climbing disciplines making their debut in the Tokyo Olympics. It’s a highly specialized pursuit that requires more explosiveness than technical precision. With its standardized, gently overhanging 15-meter wall and never-changing hold configuration, it relies more on rote memory and repetition than Bouldering and Lead—which pit competitors against new terrain every time. And it’s the farthest removed from outdoor climbing, which, after all, is the genesis of competition climbing going back to the first outdoor sport competition, held on the limestone cliffs above Bardonecchia, Italy, in 1985.
Competitors who have not traditionally been speed specialists—case in point, Adam Ondra (Czech Republic), who is essentially the top rock climber in the world but still placed 18th in the qualifying round yesterday—have had to bite the bullet and train speed for the combined format. But you get the sense that for them, it’s a lot like having to eat all the Brussels sprouts on their plates before they get dessert: a task not savored.
Nonetheless, it’s a blast to watch, and the the Men’s Finals in Speed did not disappoint. The one major absence, of course, was Bassa Mawem (France), who set the so-far—and still-standing—men’s Olympic record time of 5.45 seconds in the qualifiers, winning Speed, only to have to step down from competing at the Games altogether after tearing his left biceps in the Lead round. Still, the question on everyone’s mind was, Would we see a new world record? With a blistering time of 5.20 seconds set by Veddriq Leonardo (Indonesia) at the IFSC World Cup in Salt Lake City on May 28 of this year, the bar was high.
Well, good news and bad news. Bad news first: Conditions, as they had been, were hot and humid in Tokyo, and so the competitors found themselves dealing with suboptimal, high-summer friction at the Aomi Urban Sports Park—and no one came in sub-6-seconds in Finals. However, the good news is, the competitors still put on one hell of a show, with some notable upsets, some disappointing slips, and a personal best for the aforementioned Ondra, who in his typical Ondra way dug deep and pulled out his legendary try-hard.
In the semis, Coleman matched off against Schubert, quickly putting a half bodylength between himself and the Austrian to clock 6.21 seconds (a personal best) to Schubert’s 6.76. Then there was Ondra, again setting a new personal best of 7.03 seconds against Lopez, who clocked 6.56 seconds. Finally, in a race between two ace speed climbers, Mickael Mawem and Narasaki, the latter blitzed an impressive 6.02 seconds to Mawem’s 7.05 (two slips cost him that precious second).In round one, the quarter-finals, Ondra ran the first heat alone—his competitor would have been Bassa Mawem—clocking a personal best of 7.44 seconds, moving fluidly and solidly. Next up were Alberto Ginés López (Spain) and Colin Duffy (USA); in a bummer moment, Duffy jumped the gun with a false start, losing the round, the disappointment writ large on his face. Jakob Schubert (Austria) and Tomoa Narasaki (Japan) were next, the latter known for his “Tomoa Skip,” exploding past holds in a risky, time-saving move that garnered him a time of 6.11 seconds over Schubert, who lost ground due to a slip. Finally, in the highlight of the round, Nathaniel Coleman (USA) and Mickael Mawem (France) went head-to-head in a breathless, near-perfectly-matched sprint, with Coleman clocking 6.45 seconds and Mawem clocking 6.36 even with a slip he quickly recovered from. Back on the ground, having lowered off, they shared a bro hug—handshake and back-slap—in recognition of an amazing heat.
The competitors ducked behind the structure to rest, then it was on for the final round. The two Americans, Duffy and Coleman, battled it out for fifth and sixth place, with Duffy clocking an impressive 6.35 seconds and Coleman, unfortunately, falling after stalling out about halfway up the wall. In an excellent race, Ondra matched against Mickael Mawem, running his first-ever sub-7-second time on the wall, with 6.86 seconds, to Mawem’s 6.47. As he lowered, Ondra raised a fist in victory—you could see how stoked he was to have had this breakthrough in his most challenging discipline. Then, in a major upset, Narasaki clocked a disappointing 7.82 seconds against Lopez’s 6.42 seconds—Narasaki’s Tomoa Skip backfired low on the route, and while he saved himself from a fall, catching himself on a hold, he’d lost too much ground.
Going into Bouldering and Lead, López picked up 1 point, Narasaki 2 points, Mickael Mawem 3 points, Ondra 4 points, Duffy 5 points, Coleman 6 points, Schubert 7 points, and Bassa Mawem (not competing) 8 points. It will be interesting to see how this all shakes out, with all the men currently in Finals all strong contenders in both of the remaining disciplines.
SPORT CLIMBING SPEED FINAL ROUND RESULTS
- Alberto Ginés López (SPA)
- Narasaki Tomoa (JPN)
- Mickael Mawem (FRA)
- Adam Ondra (CZE)
- Colin Duffy (USA)
- Nathaniel Coleman (USA)
- Jakob Schubert (AUS)
- Bassa Mawem (FRA) DNS