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Adam Ondra (CZE) Age: 27
No other climber on the planet - with the exception of Alex Honnold, perhaps - gets recognised and approached for autographs in airports, town centres and climbing walls like Adam Ondra. Along his journey from 6-year-old rock wonderkid to Olympian, Ondra has set records and forged new ground in almost every aspect of rock and competition climbing: Ondra is the only male athlete to have won IFSC World Championship titles in two disciplines (Lead and Boulder) in the same year (2014); he is the only male athlete to have won the World Cup series in both disciplines (Lead in 2009, 2015 and 2019, and Boulder in 2010); he made a rapid second ascent of the Dawn Wall in Yosemite in 2016; he established the world’s first 9c rock climb in 2017 and achieved the world’s first 9a+ flash in 2018. In fact, since he first stepped off the ground with his climbing parents, barely a year has gone by in which Ondra hasn’t rewritten the history books.
Despite his fame and anomalously large fan-base for a professional climber - 573,000 followers on Instagram, second only to Alex Honnold with 2 million – Ondra remains a grounded, passionate and widely-respected ambassador for the sport in its myriad forms. His engagement in climbing competitions has helped garner newfound respect for the discipline from some cynical outdoor traditionalists, who have followed his participation with interest. In 2016, however, Ondra wasn't so keen on speed climbing and consequently, training for the Olympic Combined format. 'I think speed climbing is kind of an artificial discipline,' he commented at the time. ‘It doesn't have much in common with the climbing philosophy in my opinion,' he continued, before explaining that he would need to 'think a lot' about committing to the Olympics - a classic example of Ondra’s cerebral approach to climbing. Much to the appreciation of the climbing world, Ondra changed his mind and set out on his ‘Road to Tokyo’ – the title of his popular YouTube series documenting his preparation. Even the New York Times followed him across three continents to tell the story of his Olympic journey, with perhaps the best opening line ever: ‘The world’s best climber is a wiry 27-year-old with a curly mop of hair and a noticeably long neck.’
Toulouse Combined Qualifier: 2nd place
An unexpected twist in Ondra’s Road to Tokyo arrived at the Hachioji World Championships during the Combined Lead qualification. After a disappointing run, Ondra’s score was marked down due to a bolt-stepping incident following an appeal, which ranked him 18th and well out of contention for an Olympic ticket. With the eyes of the climbing world watching him on the livestream and the expectation that comes with being Adam Ondra, drama and an emotional outburst would likely have been forgiven. But Ondra dealt with defeat and disappointment with his trademark humility. In Toulouse, an illness seemed like yet another hurdle on his Road to Tokyo, but he battled on, finishing last in Speed, 3rd in Boulder and 1st in Lead to take 2nd place and a hard-earned ticket to the Games. As John Branch wrote in his New York Times profile of Ondra: ‘There was relief. But with Ondra, there is always a sense that the hardest part is ahead.’
Ondra uses his characteristically long neck as a pendulum to push his feet closer to the wall. He also speaks English and Italian fluently, and can communicate in French, Spanish and German.
With his prowess in Lead and capability of finishing top of the boulder round, Ondra will be relying on these disciplines to drag up what will realistically be a 15-20th place finish in Speed. Occasionally, Ondra can become flustered in Boulder rounds if things aren’t going his way, so he’ll need a number 1 beside his name in Lead to secure a podium position. Given his weakness in Speed compared to some other strong ‘biathletes’, we don’t think Ondra will take the win, but finish 2nd or 3rd. If he does win gold, it’ll be yet another reason to laud him with the nebulous accolade of ‘World’s Best Climber.’