Five things to know about sport climbing star Mickael Mawem

The Frenchman forms one half of climbing’s famous Mawem brothers, both of whom made the sport’s ever Olympic final at Tokyo 2020. But did you know Mickael only takes one week off a year? More on that below.
By Andrew Binner

Mikael Mawem is one of the most popular characters on the sport climbing circuit.

Alongside his older brother Bassa, the duo hold a cult-like status in the ever-growing climbing community. Their popularity soared even higher after both making the first-ever Olympic sport climbing final at Tokyo 2020.

Their joint Instagram account boasts 147K followers, where they share training routines, motivational videos, and their seemingly permanent smiles.

However, despite both valuing family above all else, the Mawems have very different personalities.

Mikael is an anxious competitor, loves to wear bright colours in his long hair, and only takes one week of holiday a year!

But what else do you know about the 2019 bouldering world champion and French national champion? He spoke exclusively to Olympics.com at the IFSC World Climbing Championships in Moscow, Russia, revealing some fascinating insights into his life.

Don’t forget, Olympic Channel is the place to watch all semi-final and final action from Moscow, and you can watch it all online via Olympics.com right here.

1 - Triumphing through adversity

The Mawem brothers are proof that athletes can be successful in expensive sports, regardless of their background.

Despite growing up in French Guiana, Nîmes, Cameroon and finally Alsace, France, they were able to succeed due to the sacrifice their mother made in order for them to have an education, and opportunities in life.

“Family is the first priority in my life,” Mickael told Olympics.com. “I have three sisters and two brothers. We had a hard life as children, but we supported each other and evolved together to have a better life. Without my family I wouldn’t be here (climbing) for sure.”

“My mother has had such a difficult life including some serious illnesses. But she’s still here and sacrificed a lot in order to give her children a good life. We didn’t have much in our lives, but everything we did have, we took full advantage of and did it thoroughly.

“She never stops fighting and motivates us to be the best in the world in whatever we do. Climbing, or like my sister who works in a hospital. We want to give back to her.”

2 - An emotional climber

As a lead and boulder specialist, one might assume that Mickael Mawem would be a calm and relaxed competitor. Wrong.

The French national champ gets anxious before competing and runs on emotions, while his brother Bassa, who concentrates on the ultra-explosive speed wall, is as cool as a cucumber.

“My brother is so calm!” Mickael continued. “He just fixes a goal in his head and goes while I am more nervous, and you can tell when I climb.

“We are so similar but also so different. My brother is a simple guy who likes black and grey clothes. I like green and yellow like my hair. Maybe I am more fashionable!

But despite their differences, Mickael is quick to point out that they are vital in each other’s success.

“We motivate each other at training when we are tired. When one gets tired, the other encourages them to work harder and visa versa. And we may be older, but we aren’t finished yet.”

Imagine the French legends competing on home turf at the Paris 2024 Olympics in just three years time, where the speed competition will be separate from bouldering and lead.

Mickael Mawem feels the strain on the bouldering wall.
Picture by 2021 Getty Images

3 - Mickael Mawem’s secret: Yoga and Yamakasi

They say the best athletes never stop learning, and that mantra fits perfectly with Mickael Mawem.

Despite being a national champion, three years ago he decided to take up yoga in order to improve his performance.

“In the run up to the Olympics I started practising yoga for one or two hours every day to improve my flexibility and movement,” he revealed.

But that wasn’t all. He also started working with Williams Belle, who was part of a group called Yamakasi, the original parkour practitioners. The philosophy of their sport is ‘the art of movement’, and encompases elements of martial arts, mental training and acrobatics.

“In Yamakasi it’s very important to be flexible and be in control of your movements, so this extra training helped me a lot. The guys some amazing films and thanks to it I can now touch my toes. Three years ago, just my knees!

“Now I have stopped because my body can only do so much. Now I just do one or two hours a week.”

4 - One week off climbing a year

To say that Mickael loves climbing would be a serious understatement. For him it’s not a job, but a way of life.

His daily routine is as follows:

“I wake up, go climbing, take a break, eat something, and go climbing again. Then I take a shower, go to sleep and repeat the next day. I just love it so much,” he says with a huge smile.

“I take a break for one week a year, where I eat everything I feel like and sit on a beach, and then I get back to climbing.”

‘La vie est belle’ for Mickael!

Mickael Mawem lined up for sport climbing's first-ever Olympic final at Tokyo 2020.

5 - Building a business and a brand

Unsurprisingly, the Mawem’s side business also revolves around climbing.

Very soon they will be opening a climbing gym, which will complement their other business Les Frères Mawem, which is a lifestyle brand that includes a merchandise boutique.

“Ten years ago we had the dream to open a gym,” he revealed.

“We now have good partners and sponsors, and two weeks ago we completed the gym, so we are happy for this. We are happy to be working for ourselves, and not for anyone else.

“We want to make a lot of money, but not for holidays or cars - well, maybe when I’m 60 - but just to give to my family. To give my parents and sisters a house and a nice life.”