Spanish teenager Lopez wins 1st Olympic climbing gold

·3 min read

TOKYO (AP) — Spanish teenager Alberto Gines Lopez won the first Olympic gold medal in sport climbing, riding a victory in the speed discipline to the top of the podium Thursday at the Tokyo Games.

The 18-year-old Gines Lopez opened the finals with the speed win, then showed off his all-around skills by finishing seventh in lead and fourth in bouldering. He had 30 points – the finishes are multiplied together – to edge Nathaniel Coleman of the United States by two.

Coleman topped three of the four “problems” to win bouldering, was fifth in lead and sixth in speed.

Jakob Schubert of Austria had the climb of the night, becoming the first man or woman to reach the top of the 45-meter lead wall in three days of competition. His climb moved him into the bronze medal spot and knocked Czech climber Adam Ondra off the podium.

Climbing made the transition from outdoors chill vibe to competitive sport in the 1990s and took a huge step forward in 2007 with the formation of the International Federation of Sport Climbing.

The World Cup circuit expanded the sport’s popularity, as did the increase in recreational gyms around the world.

The popular currency exploded the last several years with the social media prowess of the top climbers, a TV deal with ESPN and the success of Free Solo, a documentary of Alex Honnold’s rope-free climb of Yosemite’s El Capitan.

The culmination put elite climbers in position to reach for the Olympic rings.

Sport climbing was added to the Tokyo Games along with skateboarding, karate, 3-on-3 basketball and surfing in an effort to draw younger generations.

But with the inclusion came an exception: speed climbing was part of the program.

The IOC is handing out two medals in climbing – one for men and women – and wanted something fast-twitch to catch people’s attention, so speed was included.

The decision rankled lead and boulder climbers; speed is a more specialized discipline and will have its own medals at the 2024 Paris Olympics.

The key for the lead and boulder specialists would be to offset low scores in speed with high ones, even a first in one or both of the other two disciplines.

Ondra, considered the best climber in the world, has called speed a circus show and didn’t seem too worried about his results in the finals in Tokyo. He laughed after losing to Gines Lopez after getting a bye in the first round and was ecstatic after losing to Mickael Mawem because he set a personal best of 6.68 seconds to finish fourth.

Ondra had a difficult time on the boulder walls after topping the first problem, but had the top score in lead until Schubert's climb.

Gines Lopez used his speed climbing prowess to his advantage, winning the final race over Tomoa Narasaki of Japan with a run of 6.42 seconds up the 4.5-meter wall dotted with standardized holds. The teen who used to struggle with his nerves kept his composure over the next two disciplines, walking away with gold.

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More AP Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/2020-tokyo-olympics and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

John Marshall, The Associated Press

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