Nathaniel Coleman went from barely hanging onto a silver medal around his neck.
The Murray native climbed from eighth place after qualifying on the podium, winning the first climbing silver medal in Olympic Games history on Thursday at Aomi Urban Sports Park in Tokyo.
Coleman said he “never dared to recognize the dream I could win at the Olympics. Just making the final was like my Hail Mary goal.”
With his parents, aunts, uncle and cousins cheering him on in Salt Lake City, Coleman entered the medal race by winning the bouldering game – the second of three disciplines. He then got his medal with the fifth best performance of the day.
Rosane and Richard scribbled intensely on a pad of paper in an attempt to keep track of Coleman’s overall standings. They have been involved in sport climbing for years, but with the rankings changing frequently throughout the competition and an athlete’s final score depending on their rank in each discipline, it was difficult to keep track.
“Did they just say Nathaniel Coleman ?!” Coleman’s father asked, his eyes widening in disbelief as he watched TV at a family watch party as the medalists were announced.
Coleman, 24, was passed by Adam Ondra of the Czech Republic when Jakob Schubert of Austria, the last competitor, was the only one to finish first on the climb.
“Thanks, Jacob! Coleman’s mother, Rosane, cried tears in her eyes.
Schubert, 30, secured bronze by winning the lead. He also pushed 18-year-old Spaniard Alberto Gines Lopez to win the sport’s first gold medal. Coleman was just two points behind Lopez, 28-30, in the final standings. Schubert scored 35.
“I’m proud of him, really proud of him,” Richard said of his son. “I wasn’t really expecting that. I’m just totally thrilled. Just delighted.
Coleman’s biggest challenge of the day was the finals format.
The Murray High graduate would have come out second in the initial sprint discipline if the athletes had advanced only in time, as they do in qualifying. He climbed the course, which has not changed since 2007, with a personal best of 6.21 seconds. It was behind only the 6.02 set by Tamoa Narasaki from Japan. But a parenthesis format is used in the finals, and a slide near the top in his first run and midway through his third run left Coleman in sixth place and securing most of the rest of the field.
But the block was next.
This is Coleman’s specialty, having honed his skills at the Momentum Climbing Hall in Sandy and the quartzite fields of Little Cottonwood Canyon. But it didn’t look like that on Tuesday in qualifying. He had struggled in sweltering heat and humidity and finished 11th, which seemed to doom his chance to reach the final. But a fourth place in the lead was just enough to put him in the top eight.
Given a second chance on Thursday, he channeled the same attitude live as at the 2018 National Bouldering Championship in Salt Lake City, which he won while climbing with an injured tendon in his finger. In Tokyo, he posed his first bouldering problem, putting pressure on his competitors. He was then the only one to cross the second block. On the third block, he, like all the others, reached the zone on his first try but was unable to reach the top.
“I couldn’t believe how well the bouldering went,” Coleman told his parents in a brief phone call after the podium. “It was … phew.”
Coleman’s medal hopes then depended on how high and how fast he could climb the 50-foot wall in the lead, the final discipline. He entered the event tied for first in points with Narasaki and Frenchman Mickael Mawam.
For about half of the competition he became the first Olympic climbing champion, but Ondra passed him by climbing a few holds from the summit. Then Schubert, a bronze medalist in a World Cup bouldering event in Salt Lake City in May, moved from last place to the podium.
“It was kind of a makeshift final in the fact that the public got to see how the layout of the route can affect the competition,” said Coleman. “The lead route was perfectly marked. There was a man to surpass him, at the very last (opportunity). It is the height of excitement in lead climbing competition.
Ondra, the winner of one of the bouldering World Cups in Salt Lake and considered the favorite before the event, was exceptionally absent in the bouldering game and failed even to secure an area on the second block. . This greatly threatened his medal hopes and he finished sixth overall, just ahead of Coleman’s American climbing teammate Colin Duffy of Colorado, 17.
Ondra, 28, has said he will use his ranking as motivation as he prepares for Paris 2024.
“Coming home without a medal from the first Olympics definitely motivates me to go to Paris in three years,” he said.
Climbing was one of six sports selected by Tokyo under a new IOC rule that allows host countries to add only a few sports to their program to give a local feel and attract a younger audience. Paris also chose to include rock climbing – along with surfing, skateboarding and breakdancing – but with a few changes. It will offer men’s and women’s medals in speed climbing as well as medals in a combined bouldering and head event.
Rosane texted her son on Wednesday evening – Thursday morning in Tokyo – and encouraged him to attend and enjoy the moment. Coleman said those posts put him in a good headspace.
Rosane could tell. She said “it was a joy” to see him in the final.
“To know that he had such a good sprint, that he got a personal best, that he did very well in bouldering,” she said. “He just had such a good day. He was so happy and climbed so well.
1. Alberto Gines Lopez, Spain
2. Nathaniel Coleman, United States
3. Jakob Schubert, Austria
4. Tamoa Narasaki, Japan
5. Mickaël Mawem, France
6. Adam Ondra, Czech Republic
7. Colin Duffy, United States
8. Bassa Mawem *, France
* Did not participate due to injury