What we learned: Sport climbing highlights from the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games

TOKYO, JAPAN - AUGUST 06: Janja Garnbret of Team Slovenia  during the Sport Climbing Women's Combined Final on day fourteen of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Aomi Urban Sports Park on August 06, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Maja Hitij/Getty Images)
TOKYO, JAPAN - AUGUST 06: Janja Garnbret of Team Slovenia during the Sport Climbing Women's Combined Final on day fourteen of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Aomi Urban Sports Park on August 06, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Maja Hitij/Getty Images)

On sport climbing's Olympic debut, favourite Janja Garnbret captured a historic gold in the women's while Alberto Gines Lopez surprised in the men's. Take a look at the most memorable moments, a medal recap, and what to look forward to at Paris 2024. 

Welcome to the Olympics Games, sport climbing.

The fan-favourite sport, with a global following and skyrocketing participation numbers made its Olympic debut at Tokyo 2020 with rave reviews.

In the combined event - featuring speed, bouldering and lead climbing - it was Spain's Alberto Gines Lopez who surprised for the men's gold medal, while heavy favourite Janja Garnbret emerged as the women's champion.

While the three disciplines were combined to create an overall winner in Japan, the sport will double its medal haul at Paris 2024, when separate medals are awarded for speed, the new fastest event at the Olympics. Bouldering and lead will combine for a different medal.

Below, we highlight five things to remember - plus what to look forward to in Paris, how to watch Tokyo replays and what comes next for top-level climbers.

TOKYO, JAPAN - AUGUST 05: (L-R) Silver medalist Nathaniel Coleman of Team United States of America , gold medalist Alberto Gines Lopez of Team Spain , and bronze medalist Jakob Schubert of Team Austria, pose on the podium during the medal ceremony for Sport Climbing Men's Combined after the 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)
TOKYO, JAPAN - AUGUST 05: (L-R) Silver medalist Nathaniel Coleman of Team United States of America , gold medalist Alberto Gines Lopez of Team Spain , and bronze medalist Jakob Schubert of Team Austria, pose on the podium during the medal ceremony for Sport Climbing Men's Combined after the 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)
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Top 5 sport climbing moments at Tokyo 2020 in 2021

Here are the best bits:

1. Garnbret delivers brilliant performance for gold

"I'm so happy that I can't even describe it, it’s like a dream coming true."

Those were the words of 22-year-old Garnbret, a six-time world champion who was the heavy favourite coming into the Games - and delivered. She won Slovenia only its third gold of Tokyo and first by a female.

She did so with a complete performance, scoring well in her weaker discipline, speed, then showing her true brilliance in boulder and lead climbing.

"I thought, 'This is my day,'" she said in an exclusive interview (below). "I just [tried to] not think of anything and just climb."

It wasn't only Garnbret who made history on Friday (6 Aug.) night: Hosts Japan won silver and bronze, with Nonaka Miho and Noguchi Akiyo finishing two-three. Noguchi, 32, said the Olympics would be her final event.

Japan has a strong climbing culture, which Noguchi addressed after her bronze: "Only two Japanese athletes could enter this competition, and we have both won a medal. I'm very proud of that."

2. Gines Lopez surprises as Ondra finishes sixth

While the women's event saw the favourite prevail, the men's event the night before was full of surprises, with 18-year-old Gines emerging as Olympic champion.

It was 28-year-old Adam Ondra, from the Czech Republic, who had been expected to win gold, largely considered the strongest all-around climber in the world. Having put in a strong performance on the lead wall, where he's three-time world champion, Ondra watched as Austrian rival Jakob Schubert, the final climber of the event, out-climbed him. This send Ondra to a sixth-place finish due to the scoring mechanism.

"It's been my dream to one day climb at the Olympics," Ondra said in an interview . "It didn't turn out the way that I wanted... it was still great. I have some nice memories. And motivation for the next Olympics, for sure."

The gold went to Gines thanks to a win in the speed event, then holding strong in lead, where he finished fourth, totalling him for 28 points.

Nathaniel Coleman won silver with 30 points and Schubert, a veteran, finished with 35 points.

"It's a dream come true. I didn't expect it at all," Gines said after. "Having my head in the right place [helped], which during this past year I've not been able to do, but here I was able to feel in the right place."

3. Speed climbing: World and Olympic records

While it was Gines who won the speed in the final, it was France's Bassa Mawem who set the new Olympic record in qualifying, a 5.45 that would not be bested in the final.

Mawem qualified for the final, too, but had a bad muscle tear to finish on the lead wall, which prevented him from participating.

In the women's final, Poland's Aleksandra Miroslaw set a new world record, clocking in at 6.84 for first.

Speed climbing, with its lightning fast pace up a 15m wall, is now the Olympics' fastest event - a title previously saved for the 100m dash in athletics.

4. New sport wows Olympic fans

Sport climbing was one of five new sports to be added to the Olympic programme at Tokyo 2020, in addition to surfing, karate, skateboarding and 3x3 basketball.

The event, which took place across evening sessions on Tuesday (3 Aug.) to Friday (6 Aug.), wowed fans watching from around the world - and the few lucky folks live in attendance.

5. Pro climber Alex Honnold takes in the action

Millions all over the world were excited for sport climbing's Olympic debut, including perhaps the most famous climber of them all, 'Free Solo' adventure climber Alex Honnold.

Speaking to Olympics.com throughout the climbing competition, Honnold said, "It's a very exciting moment for climbing. ... It's fun to have a sport added to the Olympics that so many people around the world are doing. I'm going to go do a training session right after after watching."

Tokyo 2020 replays: When and where to watch?

We've got you covered - right here.

What's next for top climbers? And Paris 2024

While it's unclear how much of a break many of the Olympians will take, the IFSC World Cup series kicks on in September, with an event in Garnbret's home country of Slovenia.

The Climbing World Championships are set for bouldering, lead and speed in Moscow, 16-21 September, while four more World Cups are planned for Asian countries to close out 2021.

With Paris 2024 now less than three years away and double the number of sport climbing medals up for grabs there, the positioning among top competitors will be fierce. Youngsters like Gines, American Colin Duffy, Korean Seo Chaehyun and more are examples of the up-and-coming talent in the sport. Meanwhile, mainstays like Garnbret, Ondra and more have voiced that they'd like to be in Paris, too.

Sport climbing medals - Olympic Games Tokyo 2020

Men's combined

Gold - Alberto Gines Lopez (ESP)

Silver - Nathaniel Coleman (USA)

Bronze - Jakob Schubert (AUT)

Women's combined

Gold - Janja Garnbret (SLO)

Silver - Nonaka Miho (JPN)

Bronze - Noguchi Akiyo (JPN)

Do you want to get started in climbing? Alex Honnold explains how
02:57

Sport climbing's Olympic debut at Tokyo 2020 is set to spark massive interest in the activity. And there's no one better than Alex Honnold, extreme professional climber and star of Free Solo, to guide you as to how to make your first steps indoors or out.