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Salt Lake City Native Nathaniel Coleman Becomes First U.S. Man To Qualify For The Olympics In Climbing

By Karen Price | Nov. 28, 2019, 12:48 p.m. (ET)

Nathaniel Coleman Tokyo qualified graphic


Climber Nathaniel Coleman wrote on Instagram heading into this weekend’s Olympic qualifier in Toulouse, France, that the last time he cared so much about a competition was before his first open national competition in 2014.

He’s usually pretty laid back, he wrote, but admitted to being fixated on this weekend and what his next six months might look like depending on the result.

The 22-year-old from Salt Lake City now knows that next summer he’ll be in Tokyo competing as climbing makes its Olympic debut.

Coleman finished Thursday’s qualifying round at the IFSC Combined Qualifier in seventh place, while the top eight made the final. The top six would earn Olympic spots on Saturday, but because of two-per-country maximums and the fact that two Japanese climbers made the final, the other six, including Coleman, are booked for Tokyo 2020 no matter what happens on Saturday.

Finishing heartbreakingly outside the top eight was fellow American Sean Bailey, who finished ninth overall. The final Olympic qualifier for U.S. men will be held in February in Los Angeles.

The combined competition that will be used in the Olympic Games features all three disciplines — speed, bouldering and lead climbing — with placements in all three being multiplied for an overall score.

Coleman was sixth after the speed qualification with a time of 6.728 seconds and Bailey was 19th.

That led to bouldering, in which climbers work to complete routes that are lower to the ground and do not use ropes. Coleman built his reputation in bouldering and is a three-time national champion in the discipline, while Bailey is the 2019 title holder, and both performed well. Coleman was fifth and Bailey sixth to put them in sixth and 14th, respectively, heading into lead climbing.

In lead, a climber’s strength and endurance is tested as they have six minutes to get as high as they can on the wall. They are given just several minutes to look at the wall before the event and are not permitted to watch the climbers before them.

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Bailey’s strongest discipline is lead and he held on after his feet popped off twice, forcing him to control the swing and regain control on the wall, and got within striking distance of the top before coming off for good above the 46th hold.

Coleman was next and he got above the 41st hold when he popped off. Coleman’s strong performance in all three disciplines was enough to get him into the final and the Olympic Games.

Growing up in the Salt Lake City suburbs, Coleman got his start at an indoor climbing gym at age 9, and after some early challenges he emerged as one of the best in the country in bouldering, having won consecutive U.S. bouldering titles from 2015-18 before finishing second in 2019.

Along the way, Coleman has also begun to thrive in the lead and speed disciplines, leading to his berth on the 2020 U.S. Olympic Team.

In Tokyo he will join Brooke Raboutou, who became the first American to qualify for the Olympics in climbing based on her performance at this year’s world championships. The U.S. can still qualify one more man and woman in the sport.

Karen Price is a reporter from Pittsburgh who has covered Olympic and Paralympic sports for various publications. She is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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Nathaniel Coleman