TOKYO, Aug. 3 (Reuters) – Frenchman Bassa Mawem climbed close to the world speed record of the Tokyo climbing competition when more than a third of the 20-man field set personal bests in a sensational start to the Olympics debut on Tuesday.
Bassa, who competes alongside his brother Mickael and is the oldest contender in the field at 36, achieved a personal best of 5.45 seconds, just under the world record of 5.20.
He took an early lead in the competition, in which the eight athletes with the best combined score in three disciplines – speed, a vertical sprint; Bouldering, which tests problem-solving skills on low walls; and leadership, a technical climb against the clock – will advance to the finals on Thursday.
In a good performance for hosts Japan, Tomoa Narasaki set his fastest time of 5.94 and finished second behind Bassa, while Mickael completed the top three in the bouldering section.
The Czech Adam Ondra, an accomplished technique and outdoor climber who is considered one of the top medal contenders, finished 18th with 7.46 seconds.
The unusual combination format – the climbing equivalent of a triathlon – has pushed the athletes out of their comfort zone, whereby the ranking system offers a lot of potential for surprises.
The three walls stand side by side in the Aomi Urban Sports Park temporary venue near the Tokyo waterfront to introduce the competitive iterations of the sport and many of its great personalities to a global audience.
The inclusion of climbing in the Olympics along with events such as surfing and skateboarding is an attempt by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to make the world’s largest sporting event more attractive.
It brings a new generation of athletes to the Games, some of whom are well versed in both competition and climbing rugged outdoor routes.
The sport has become an alternative to traditional gyms as climbing walls spring up in urban centers and provide full-body workouts for a younger population drawn by its association with adventure.
While the combined format in Tokyo prefers all-rounders, climbing at the Paris Games 2024 will be divided into speed and a combined bouldering and lead event.
The women’s competition begins on Wednesday.
Reporting by Sam Nussey and Rozanna Latiff; Adaptation by Lincoln Feast and Ed Osmond
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