Who could steal the show and place on the Olympic podium?

Forty athletes. 20 men and 20 women. From Sport Climbing veterans – such as 36-year-old Bassa Mawem, of France, and Japan’s Akiyo Noguchi, aged 32 – to athletes still only just beginning their careers, including South Korea’s Chaehyun Seo and Colin Duffy of the USA, both aged just 17.

The Olympic Sport Climbing roster features athletes who have participated in almost 200 International Federation of Sport Climbing world cups, to those who have taken part in only a handful so far.

With such a diverse group of climbers competing in the Olympic Games, one can only attempt to predict who might pocket a place on the podium; However, one thing all of these athletes have in common, is that they are now Olympians – and Sport Climbing’s very first Olympians, at that.

Thinking outside the box and looking past previous competition statistics, we asked a select group of Sport Climbing experts: Who could steal the show at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020?

Natalie Berry - UK Climbing
I think Brooke Raboutou has proved that she has medal-winning potential by earning three medals across Boulder and Lead so far this season. She perhaps wasn't considered a contender when she qualified in Hachioji, Japan, but her rise through the ranks has been meteoric ever since. In the men's, Colin Duffy has the potential to medal, despite being the youngest competitor.

John Burgman - Climbing Magazine, author of High Drama
I don’t know if “outsiders” would be an accurate descriptor for any Olympian climber, since they all had to work incredibly hard to qualify and they are all elite athletes. I’ll direct the question a different way and say that I’m particularly curious about the competitors who we have not seen on the World Cup circuit yet in 2021 – competitors such as YuFei Pan and YiLing Song from China, and Chaehyun Seo from South Korea. In fact, in large part we have not seen any of them in high-level international competition for more than a year, given the Olympics’ postponement. That makes me wonder how their skills in all disciplines might have improved since we did last see them compete so long ago. Certainly any, or all of them could somehow steal the show in Tokyo!

Dorine Besson – L’Equipe
Italian climber Laura Rogora took advantage of thw one-year postponement to progress, fast! Her carelessness, due to her young age – 20 years old – can be an advantage to face a big event such as the Olympics.

Albert Ok - Sport Climbing analyst, YouTuber
I've been talking about him for a while now, but Rishat Khaibullin of Kazakhstan can turn some heads at this competition. He is one of the fastest competitors, but he is a very strong Boulder and Lead climber. I also think that because the Combined format is so volatile anyone can podium. I love the Combined format because of this. On the female side the competition seems a bit less volatile, so the main favourites probably will make the podium.

Delaney Miller – Gym Climber
Rishat Khaibullin. He could win Speed, and his proficiency in both Boulder and Lead could put him near the top of the rankings. And Chaehyun Seo. She won her first ever Lead World Cup season. It’s difficult to predict how she’ll perform in Boulder and Speed, but I wouldn’t put it past the 17-year-old to put up a show.

Who is going to leave Japan with the Speed Olympic record in their pocket?

The current 15-metre Speed world records are 5.20 seconds and 6.96 seconds, set by Indonesia’s Veddriq Leonardo and Russia’s Iuliia Kaplina.

Will these times be beaten at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020? With this being Sport Climbing’s Olympic debut, the fastest times in the women’s and men’s events will be records in their own right: Speed Olympic records.

Four-time world-record-holder Kaplina, who holds an impressive collection of 32 International Federation of Sport Climbing World Cup medals in Speed, will compete in the Games alongside previous record-holder YiLing Song, of China, and Speed specialists Anouck Jaubert, of France, and Poland’s Aleksandra Miroslaw. In the men’s event, as no world-record-holders will be in attendance, there’s all to play for, with ones to watch being France’s Bassa Mawem, Italy’s Ludovico Fossali, and also Rishat Khaibullin, of Kazakhstan.

Will a Speed specialist take the Olympic record, or could another Olympian snatch the fastest time on the clock? We asked five Sport Climbing experts their thoughts.

Natalie Berry - UK Climbing
Iuliia Kaplina of Russia and Bassa Mawem of France are the climbers with the fastest PBs in competition to date – Kaplina's one is a World Record – so they'd be strong bets. But there are so many Speed athletes competing, especially in the women's event, that there will be all to play for. What form is YiLing Song in? She's the next-fastest woman, but we haven't seen her on the circuit this year!

John Burgman - Climbing Magazine, author of High Drama
The only statistical data available for us are past World Cup and world record performances. In light of those, one has to consider Iuliia Kaplina to be the favourite to set the Olympic record in the women’s division – since she already holds the current world record – 6.96 seconds, and earned a World Cup silver medal in Villars, Switzerland, less than one month ago. 

But things get very interesting because YiLong Song will also participate in the Olympics, and she is a former world record holder. Aleksandra Miroslaw has been incredibly fast this season, and she even won a World Cup gold in Salt Lake City, USA. It’s not at all a stretch to envision either of them — or someone else — setting a blazing Olympic Speed record as well.

In the men’s division, Rishat Khaibullin placed eighth at the recent World Cup in Villars – so he is a logical pick as someone who might set a fast Olympic time. A similar inference could be made for Ludovico Fossali – ninth in Salt Lake City – and Bassa Mawem, also a Speed specialist. There’s logic in thinking that any of them could set an impressive Speed Olympic record.

Dorine Besson – L’Equipe
France’s Bassa Mawem have been eating, drinking and sleeping for Sport Climbing, and this Olympic project for three years. The two-time World Cup winner did not participate in a lot of competitions in 2021, but achieved a 5.44-seconds time at the end of June – his personnal best. On the women side, Iuliia Kaplina, current world record holder is full of confidence after her last competitions.

Albert Ok - Sport Climbing analyst, YouTuber
YiLing Song of China has been working very, very hard. With knowledge of her consistent times at that Chinese national competition, I predict that we will see the former women’s Speed world record beaten by upwards to 0.4-seconds, and setting the Olympic record extremely high. As for the men, I don't think any of them have the ability to break the record, as the Indonesians simply set the bar too high at Salt Lake City. I think if anyone will have the fastest time overall, and set an Olympic Record for the men, it will be Bassa Mawem, since he recently was able to run a 5.44 in competition.

Delaney Miller – Gym Climber
While it’s not out of the realm of possibility, I’d be surprised if the men’s world record was broken. The most recent record holders, Veddriq Leonardo and Kiromal Katibin of Indonesia, and Reza Alipour Shenazandifard of Iran, are not qualified Olympians and, since the Combined format demands Speed specialists to also train Lead and Boulder, it seems unlikely that these male athletes, talented as they are, will break the barrier. Still, quite frankly I’m most excited to watch Tomoa Narasaki, who posted a 5.70 back in March. I definitely don’t expect him to break the record, but the fact that he’s nearing it, and is not primarily a speed climber, is remarkable.

In the women’s event, Iuliia Kaplina, no doubt. She’s set the record 10 times now, which is truly remarkable. She is one of my favorite climbers to watch for her joy and authenticity.

How many medals can Japan win on their home turf?

Akiyo Noguchi, Kai Harada, Miho Nonaka, and Tomoa Narasaki: the names of the four Sport Climbing athletes representing Team Japan at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, competing on home soil in their sport’s Olympic debut.

Japan’s climbing team has a history of success at multi-sport Games, with Olympians Kai Harada and Miho Nonaka each taking a gold medal at the inaugural ANOC World Beach Games Doha 2019, and their compatriots Keita Dohi and Shuta Tanaka claiming the top two podium positions in the men’s event at the Youth Olympic Games Buenos Aires 2018. Nonaka additionally bagged a Boulder silver medal at The World Games Wroclaw 2017. 

The quartet of Japanese climbers competing in the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 boasts an astounding 125 International Federation of Sport Climbing World Cup and World Championship medals between them. Will the team add to their repertoire in Tokyo? We asked some Sport Climbing experts for their opinions.

Natalie Berry - UK Climbing
I think the Japanese Team has the potential of winning three or four medals, but given the unpredictability of it all, I'll settle for two! I really hope they are successful at their home event.

John Burgman - Climbing Magazine, author of High Drama
Japan, as a team, has looked phenomenal ever since the first Olympic qualification event. It’s entirely possible that each of them could earn a medal and Team Japan would ultimately garner four pieces of Olympic hardware. Since the Olympics are taking place in Tokyo, that would certainly be a memorable scenario.

Dorine Besson – L’Equipe
At home, Japanese star Tomoa Narasaki, winner of the 2019 IFSC World Championiphs in Hachioji, Japan, in the Combined discipline, is exepected at the top spot. I would see say that both Akiyo Noguchi and Miho Nonaka will likely fight for a place on the podium.

Albert Ok - Sport Climbing analyst, YouTuber
I think I can confidently say two. Tomoa and Miho, however my heart wants to say three. It would be amazing if Akiyo, after all the years of Sport Climbing she has done, on her last and final competition makes it to the podium.

Delaney Miller – Gym Climber
I believe that Japan has the potential to win up to three medals in total: I think Tomoa Narasaki could win Boulder and place in the top. 4 in both Speed and Lead. And I think Miho Nonaka could be in the top 4 for all three disciplines as well. Akiyo won't do as well as Miho in Speed, but she could do better in Boulder – maybe – and in Lead.

210803 IFSC News Three questions about Sport Climbings Olympic debut answeredThe Aomi Urban Sports Park in Tokyo, Japan
Photo: Leo Zhukov/IFSC

Tokyo 2020

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