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Utah’s Nathaniel Coleman hangs on to make Olympic climbing final

Murray native earns last spot in Thursday’s eight-man final in Tokyo, could still become the first to medal

(Jeff Roberson | AP) Nathaniel Coleman, of the United States, participates during the bouldering qualification portion of the men's sport climbing competition at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Tuesday, Aug. 3, 2021, in Tokyo.

Nathaniel Coleman was holding on with all his might. His muscles shook. He grunted as he strained.

Ultimately, the Murray native made it almost to the top. And for the day, that was more than enough.

Coleman can still become the first person to medal in climbing in the Olympics. He squeezed into Thursday’s final with the eighth and final spot after Tuesday’s qualification round at Aomi Urban Sports Park in Tokyo.

“After bouldering, I had lost all hope of that dream coming true,” said Coleman. “But I don’t know, somehow, that let me just climb freely on the lead route, and it felt great.”

Coleman was in 11th place heading into the lead round, the final of the three disciplines. Going fifth, he couldn’t be sure that reaching the 39th hold would be sufficient to move him up in the standings. In fact, as the second-highest score at the time with 15 more competitors to go, it felt unlikely.

(Jeff Roberson | AP) Nathaniel Coleman, of the United States, participates during the speed qualification portion of the men's sport climbing competition at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Tuesday, Aug. 3, 2021, in Tokyo.

But no climber reached the top and Coleman’s effort was good enough to place him fifth in that discipline. Combined with a 10th-place finish in the opening speed discipline and an uncharacteristic 11th in boulder, he literally pulled himself up into the final.

“A crazy format leads to crazy scores and I just kept moving up,” Coleman said. “And I can’t believe it really happened.”

He will be joined there by fellow American Colin Duffy of Broomfield, Colo., who finished third in qualification. France’s Mickael Mawem, who saw his brother Bassa leave the lead event with a biceps injury, won the qualification round. Japan’s Tomoa Narasaki finished second.

Duffy, the youngest competitor in the field at 17, went third in lead and his 42 holds were the highest performance until the penultimate competitor, Jakob Schubert of Austria, narrowly topped him only by getting there in less time. Duffy placed sixth in speed with a time of 6.23 seconds and fifth in bouldering.

(Jeff Roberson | AP) Colin Duffy, of the United States, participates during the bouldering qualification portion of the men's sport climbing competition at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Tuesday, Aug. 3, 2021, in Tokyo.

“It feels amazing. I’m still in shock,” Duffy said. “Yeah, Nathaniel and I made finals and I couldn’t be prouder of our team.”

Coleman got off to an excellent start with the speed discipline. He won both his head-to-head races against Germany’s Alexander Megos and turned in a personal best time of 6.51 seconds.

Next came bouldering. Though it is his specialty, Coleman struggled to solve the four bouldering problems. He only completed one of them and also reached three zones. But the look on his face as he left the floor showed his discontent.

His last chance at making the final would be in lead. Scaling a nearly 50-foot wall that had been revealed to competitors for just a few minutes at the start of the event, he methodically made his way near the top. His grunts and labored breathing were audible in the empty venue, and the strain on his arms and shoulders as he dangled by his fingers was visible.

After falling, he stared down at his hands and forearms, as if wondering how they could fail him so close to the top. But then he put his hands together as if thanking the wall for letting him climb upon it.

Perhaps the goodwill gesture worked, because he’s been invited back to climb again.

“I was happy that we at least had one of us in the finals,” Coleman said, referring to Duffy. “And now we have two.”

First, though, another Utah athlete will climb Wednesday in the women’s qualification rounds. Kyra Condie of Salt Lake City will join Brooke Raboutou of Boulder, Colorado, in representing the USA in that event.

Men’s Climbing

Results from Tuesday’s qualification

1. Mickael Mawem, France

2. Tomoa Narasaki, Japan

3. Colin Duffy, USA

4. Jakob Schubert, Austria

5. Adam Ondra, Czech Republic

6. Alberto Gines Lopez, Spain

7. Bassa Mawem, France*

8. Nathaniel Coleman, USA

*Alexander Megos of Germany finished ninth and will replace injured Bassa Mawem if he cannot compete

Women’s Climbing

Qualification rounds: 2 a.m. MDT, 3 a.m., 6:10 a.m. Wednesday

Watch live: NBC Sports app

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