Alberto Gines Lopez: The 'Spanish Spiderman' walking on clouds

At just 18, Gines became the first ever Olympic sport climbing gold medallist at Tokyo 2020. Find out the secret to his success and how life will never be the same again.

Picture by 2021 Getty Images

Surreal is the word for the moment when Alberto Gines Lopez was confirmed as sport climbing's first ever Olympic champion.

After a gripping finale he didn't even celebrate.

"I wasn't sure if I had won so I didn't want to make a fool of myself," he said afterwards, "I was waiting for the scores to change."

They didn't.

It was a dramatic, roller coaster ride for Gines who won a thrilling speed event in 6.42 seconds but then came last in bouldering before a fourth place finish in lead gave him 28 points - and gold.

It came down to the very last climber of the very last event on the incredibly difficult lead wall: Adam Ondra, gold medal favourite for many, looked like he had clinched it until Austrian Jakob Schubert became the only man to top out, flipping the standings.

Back home, Spanish national TV commentators thought gold had gone to Ondra before Schubert surpassed the Czech climber and only then did they realise what had happened:

"Wait! It's gold! It's gold! Gold for Spain! Gold for Alberto Gines Lopez! Historic!"

Chaos erupted as bronze medallist Schubert and silver medallist Nathaniel Coleman jumped for joy, but Spain's newest sporting hero did not know what to do, or say, so he did nothing as the cameras zoomed in on a reaction that never came.

"I'm not really one to express my emotions," he later told Spain's El País on the phone from Tokyo as the media frenzy began, "I wasn't sure if I had won, I didn't want to make a fool of myself... This gold medal is a miracle."

Dubbed the 'Spanish Spiderman' back home, his social media blew up and he now has over 200,000 followers on Instagram.

More than three weeks after winning gold on 5 August 2021, Gines posted that it was still giving him thrills and chills, with a 'close to tears' emoji.

"Time to recharge the batteries"

Four days after his stunning victory in Tokyo, Gines was back in Spain posing for photos in his beautiful hometown of Caceres in Extremadura among the Roman-era structures, a town where ancient history echoes through the streets.

"I'm still walking on clouds," he said, another little bit of history glittering around his neck, "but, little by little, what I've achieved is sinking in."

It's been a life-changing summer and the introverted 18-year-old is still processing it all.

On 26 August, he posted on his social media that he would not compete in the remaining events on the climbing calendar, and that he needed "time to recharge his batteries".

It's been a lot to take in, and he's letting the noise die down, heading to the mountains to climb where he feels most at home.

The secret to Alberto Gines Lopez' success: Family

Home is a place that has provided him with plenty of inspiration.

His mother Maria Victoria Lopez Espada, or ‘Mavi’ as everyone calls her, works as a nurse's assistant in the San Pedro de Alcantara Hospital in Caceres.

Watching her on the frontline of a global pandemic, coming home with lines on her face from wearing masks all day, Gines has talked about how he's amazed and inspired by the fact that she's out there saving lives.

His father Alberto Gines Marin has been a huge influence too.

As a keen climber himself, family holidays revolved around climbing when Mavi, Alberto Sr, Alberto Jr and his sister Miryam all scale together.

On Miryam's Instagram her profile reads: 'Climb now, study later.'

Dad has clocked up thousands of miles driving Alberto to elite training centres and competitions around Europe as his talent developed and his career took off.

But Olympic gold at 18 on his first try in Tokyo? No one expected that, not even Alberto.

"It's a dream, a fantasy," Mavi told Spain's RTVE on 5 August, "It still hasn't sunk in," Alberto Sr added, "We're so proud."

The family, unable to travel to Tokyo, watched it together in Caceres and their reaction in the video below is priceless.

Miryam just wanted to "give him a hug, a kiss and not let him go", Mavi let her emotions flow too sending her son this message: "I love you for who you are and the incredible heart you have."

He's a "very humble" person with "huge values" who never delights in the defeat of others, she added.

Alberto Gines Lopez: From 'El Rodeo' local climbing wall to the summit of his sport

Gines' first taste of climbing came as a toddler on the local climbing wall at 'El Rodeo' in Caceres.

He quickly became hooked and his natural ability was undeniable.

In 2013, when Gines was 10, top coach David Macia saw him climb 'El Delfin' in Rodellar in northern Spain - a 7c+ climb - with ease, and immediately became his coach.

Later, two-time lead world champion Ramon Julian 'Ramonet' became part of the his too, Gines soon outgrew Caceres particularly when the 'El Rodeo' wall disappeared.

His father would often drive in excess of 800km to elite climbing centres in Germany, France and Austria so that Alberto could train and compete.

When it was announced in 2016 that sport climbing would be part of the Olympic calendar for the first time at the Tokyo 2020 Games, 15-year-old Gines moved to San Cugat, the high-performance sports centre in Barcelona.

There he shared a room with runner Adam Maijo and, as the only climber at the centre, life was difficult at first for the shy quiet lad from Caceres.

He soon scaled that obstacle too, making friends and becoming more sociable over time.

His dream was to compete at Tokyo 2020 and soak up the experience before aiming for a medal at Paris 2024.

Now Olympic gold medallist is a tag he's getting familiar with but, while everything's changed, so much has also remained the same.

What's next for Alberto Gines Lopez?

Family and climbing are still the pillars of this Olympic champion's life, and up in the rarified air the mountain doesn't care who you are or what you've won.

"I hope to have a long career, go to more Olympic Games and win more medals," he said to COE, Spain's Olympic Committee on his return from Tokyo when they asked him what's next.

Simple.

And keeping it simple, letting his climbing do the talking, has got him to where he is. At 18 years of age, the sky really is his limit.

Alberto Gines Lopez races USA climber Colin Duffy makes a false start during the sport climbing speed event Sport Climbing Men's Combined Final on day thirteen of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Aomi Urban Sports Park on August 05, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Maja Hitij/Getty Images)
Picture by 2021 Getty Images