American climber Nathaniel Coleman ascended into Olympic history Thursday, capturing a stunning silver medal in sport climbing’s first appearance at the Olympic Games.
Coleman delivered his best performance ever in an international combined competition in a thrilling, wide-open Olympic final which featured several of the sport’s top names.
Coleman placed first in the bouldering round — the second of three disciplines — to give himself an opportunity at one of the first three sport climbing medals in Olympic history. His performances on the other two disciplines, sixth in speed climbing and fifth in lead climbing, set him short of only Spain’s Alberto Gines Lopez for the gold medal.
Gines Lopez took the top spot in the speed discipline and reached two holds higher than Coleman on the lead wall to earn the top combined score of 28.
Austria’s Jakob Schubert, the 2018 world champion, was the only one of seven finalists to top the lead wall. The effort earned him the bronze medal after he struggled in speed and bouldering.
The other American male climber in Tokyo, 17-year-old Colin Duffy, finished seventh overall, just behind Adam Ondra (CZE), who is regarded as the best male climber in history, and Narasaki Tomoa (JPN), the defending world champion.
Coleman is a bouldering specialist with two runner-up finishes at IFSC World Cup events under his belt, though both came in 2015. The 24-year-old Utah native had logged just one top-five finish in any discipline since, prior to his Olympic silver.
Coleman’s mere presence in the Olympic final was the improbable culmination of several near-misses and close calls.
After failing to make the final of the 2019 World Championship in which all finalists clinched Olympic berths, Coleman snatched the sixth and final quota spot at an Olympic qualifying event in Toulouse, France. Throughout that competition, he says he repeatedly muttered to himself, “C’mon man, be real, it’s not going to happen. You’re not going to make it.”
Then, in Tuesday’s Olympic qualification round, Coleman recovered from disappointing results in both speed and bouldering with a clutch top-five finish on the lead wall to snag the eighth and final spot in the medal round.
In a sport which demands just as much mental strength and physical strength, Coleman delivered the performance of his life on the biggest stage in the sport’s history.
“This is a goal that, I couldn’t have even really acknowledged it. So to have achieved it, it’s insane,” Coleman said after receiving the silver medal.
Sport climbing was added to the Olympic program as one of five new sports for the Tokyo Games, elevating it into the global sporting mainstream after decades of growing popularity as a niche sport.
Coleman, who picked up climbing at age nine to overcome a fear of heights, acknowledged the significance of the moment for the sport globally and in his home country.
“It’s an honor,” Coleman said. “I’m really excited for the future of climbing in the United States and the future of climbing in the Olympics.”