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What Happened During The Men’s 2021 Climbing Olympics?

What Happened During The Men’s 2021 Climbing Olympics?

By now you’ve seen who medalled for the Men’s Olympics and you may be wondering – why didn’t anyone anticipate this line up? Today we are looking at what happened and why everyone (including myself) was wrong

I’m also reviewing what it would have looked like if Speed Climbing wasn’t in the Olympics this year and who would have won instead, so see the end for that.

Discipline Overview

Before you can understand how someone wins, let’s quickly review how the disciplines and scoring works. 

Speed Climbing

The first discipline is speed climbing and this is a head-to-head challenge where two climbers race each other to the top. Whoever gets to the top the fastest, moves onto the next round. This continues until the top two speedsters go head to head. Whomever is the fastest, gets 1st place in speed.


The second discipline is bouldering, which is the only discipline that allows climbers multiple tries per route. In the final there are three routes with a time limit of 5 minutes. The goal is to get as many tops and zones as possible during the three routes. 

Each route has one zone and one top. If you reach the top, you are automatically awarded the zone. While watching the Olympics, this was tracked by a green box at the bottom of the screen.

If climbers tye for the number of tops and zones, then the number of attempts are used to break the tie. The climber with the most tops and zones wins.

Lead Climbing

The third discipline is lead climbing where you have 5 minutes to get as high on the route as possible. For each hold you reach, you are awarded a point. The scoring for lead climbing was updated in the last two years to also include half-points if you fall while making upward movement toward the next hold. 

The climber who gets the furthest/most points on the route, wins.

Combined Scoring

For each discipline, you get points based on your ranking. If you get first place, then you get 1 point. 2nd place gets 2 points, 3rd place takes 3 points, etc. Then, after all of the disciplines are done, you multiply your points together and the person with the lowest points takes gold.

For example, if you get 1st on speed, and then 3rd on Bouldering and 2nd on lead climbing, your score would be 1 x 3 x 2, which equals 6.

So now that we know scoring and how each discipline works, lets look at each discipline and evaluate what everyone thought would happen and what actually happened

How the Olympics Went Down

Leading into the Olympics and based on the last two world cup seasons, there were two clear runners for gold – Adam Ondra and Tomoa Narasaki. However, that isn’t what happened and it seemed like no one anticipated the final line up for the podium.

Speed Climbing Performance Overview

Compared to the other disciplines, the results for speed was probably the closest to what was anticipated by most people. During the Olympic competition, it isn’t about your best time, it is a knock-out competition style.  All it takes is one slip or false start to lose the entire speed competition. 

Tomoa Narasaki:

A couple of months ago, Epic TV highlighted Tomoa Narasaki’s speed technique called the Toma Skip that could help him win the speed climbing discipline, which could help him take gold at the Olympics. I thought the same thing.

When it came to the 2021 IFSC competition season, Tomoa had a false start in Salt Lake City and took last place. Could that be foreshadowing of what happened in Tokyo? In the show-down for 1st place, Tomoa had a slight slip, slowing him down and causing him to take 2nd place. 

If Tomoa had taken 1st place in speed, he would have taken Gold.

Adam Ondra:

Adam Ondra actually did better than most people anticipated. He didn’t compete in individual speed comps over the 2021 comp season and the last speed comp recorded by IFSC was in 2019 when he took 50th place and 58th place in the comp before that.

For him to take 4th place and with a time under 8 seconds, it was an incredible performance that started the finals off with what we thought was a done deal for Adam Ondra to win.

Alberto Ginés López:

Alberto Lopez taking first place was a surprise for most people. He has mostly competed in the youth world cups and he hasn’t been in the senior competition scene very long, hence why you may not have recognized him before the Olympics.

In the youth males Continental Youth Comp 2021, he took 1st for speed. In the most recent senior speed competition at the world cup, he took 31st. It seemed safe to assume that he wouldn’t perform as well in speed at the Olympics where he would be competing against senior climbers.

Taking first place in speed gave him a huge advantage for the rest of the Olympic competition.

Mikell Mawem:

I think if you’ve been following both Mawem brothers, then you probably would have considered both as top speedsters. Especially since their speeds are consistently low so I was very happy to see Mikell take third

Bouldering Discipline

The bouldering discipline is when the results started to surprise everyone and it is key to the final results skewing from expectations. 

Based on the comp season leading into the Olympics, it seemed like the top ranking climbers would be Tomoa Narasaki, Adam Ondra and maybe Mikell Mawem. 

Tomoa Narasaki:

In the 2021 climbing competition season, Tomoa dominated in bouldering and was frequently taking first and second place in the bouldering cups. Most evaluations suggested that Tomoa would take 1st or 2nd. However, he only topped one climb and took multiple attempts to get to the zone on the second route, putting him in 3rd place for bouldering. 

Adam Ondra:

Even though Adam Ondra was in the top three for the last few world cups, he didn’t make the top three in bouldering in Tokyo. Ondra had 1 top and 1 zone but he didn’t get the zone on the 2nd route. 

However, this isn’t as much of a surprise for those that have seen Ondra climb because it required very dynamic and parkour-like. Ondra is more of a traditional climber and excels with traditional movements, not necessarily the newer parkour movements of much of the bouldering competitions as of late. 

Mikell Mawem:

Now for Mawem, he has incredible skill and strength. There was a little bit of a surprise because he hasn’t consistently been taking podiums in the comp season leading up to the Olympics. He had the same number of tops and zones as Tomoa except he only took 1 attempt to get to the zone on the 2nd route whereas Tomoa took 3 attempts. This gave him the advantage he needed to take third place in bouldering.

Nathaniel Coleman:

Nathaniel has been the best boulderer in the USA for a long time and he actually grew up less than an hour away from me so he’s been on my radar for a while. The season leading up to the olympics, however, he wasn’t topping routes and he wasn’t taking the podium.

He was the only one to top the 2nd route and used beta that many other climbers attempted but never successfully accomplished. 

Alberto Ginés López:

For Lopez, being the gold medalist for the Olympics, you would have expected he did better in bouldering. However, he didn’t top any of the routes and took last in the finals, giving him a score of 7.

Bassa Mawem

Bassa Mawem, the brother of Mikell technically took last place because he didn’t compete due to a bicep injury in the qualifiers, but because of that, there was no 8th place.

Lead Discipline:

Lead climbing was probably where the most upset occurred in the Olympics this year. Top of everyone’s list was Adam Ondra but who actually took the top three was a big surprise.

Adam Ondra:

Adam Ondra was always the one we expected to take 1st in lead climbing and for that not to happen, no one anticipated that. 

Adam Ondra is considered one of, if not the best climber in the world today. He has an incredible resume of the hardest outdoor routes in the world with multiple lead climbing and combined world cup championship medals. Ondra came back to comp climbing specifically for the Olympics. During the qualification rounds for the Olympics in 2019, it seemed like it was clear he was going to be one of the first to qualify but judges disqualified him for video footage that looked like stepping on a bolt while lead climbing. Then, in the second qualification round, he earned his place in the Olympics.

Despite the challenges of the qualification rounds, he was taking first and second place in both lead climbing and bouldering disciplines in 2021, giving him a clear path to the gold. Even while he was climbing in the finals, it looked like he was going to take 1st in the lead climbing with only 2 moves to the top. 

He performed really well and took 2nd place in lead climbing resulting in a total score of 48 and a ranking of 6th place. 

If Adam Ondra had taken 1st place in Lead, he would have taken Gold.

Tomoa Narasaki:

Many anticipated that Narasaki would have been in the top three for lead climbing as well. Even though he isn’t a lead specialist, he had been performing well enough to be on the podium for many world cups leading up to this competition.  

He took 6th place finishing the Olympics with 36pts, placing him at 4th place all together and only 1 point away from 3rd place.

Jakob Shubert:

Starting with Jakob Shubert – he has proven himself and took 3rd place and 7th place multiple times in the last couple of seasons for lead climbing. Going from 3rd to 1st place is a huge jump though. Not only did he take 1st, he also topped the route, which is very uncommon for final rounds.

Routes in climbing competitions are meant to be so difficult that it’s easy to see who wins based on how high they get – topping it is very uncommon in the finals. Finishing in 1st place in the lead discipline gave him a total score of 35 and a ranking of 3rd place overall.

Collin Duffy:

Collin Duffy was the youngest Olympic climber. In one of his first senior world competitions, he qualified for the Olympics, which was incredible. Usually climbers that are newer to the senior scene don’t perform as well as the climbers that have years of experience in the senior competitions. However, Collin and Lopez both proved that wasn’t the case in the Olympics this year.

Collin’s finish in 3rd place gave him a total score of 60 and placed him 7th overall.

Alberto Ginés López:

Taking 4th place enabled Alberto to finalize his 1st place gold. If he had taken 5th place instead of 4th, he would have been pushed to third place and Nathaniel Coleman would have taken gold.

What would happen if Speed wasn’t in the Olympics?

If speed climbing wasn’t in the Olympics or if it was a separate event, there would likely have been different competitors. The climbers that qualified for the Olympics did so because they were good enough in each discipline, not necessarily because they were incredible in all of them. With that in mind, we don’t have an easy way to say what would have actually happened.

However, if the same climbers competed and performed the exact same as they did in the other disciplines, then the results would have looked very different:

  • Tied for 1st place would have been Jakob Shubert and Nathaniel Coleman.
  • Tied for 2nd place would have been Adam Ondra and Collin Duffy
  • Third place would have been Mikell Mawem

This leaves the question, how are they going to deal with ties in the Olympics in 2024?

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