SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH
Anytime Nathaniel Coleman stands below a boulder—whether it’s a monolith in the Utah desert or a competition problem on an artificial wall—he feels a strong urge to get to the top. That impulse helped him earn five gold medals from the USA Climbing Youth Boulder Nationals between 2016 and 2020, finish fourth in the 2015 IFSC Bouldering World Cup Season (which included two silver medals at World Cup stops in Toronto and Vail) and win the Bouldering Open National Championships in 2016 and 2017. It’s the same drive that earned him the second American slot to compete in sport climbing’s Olympic debut in Tokyo.
That feeling to get to the top first surfaced ten years ago, when a nine-year-old Nathaniel walked into Momentum Gym in Sandy, Utah. He finally knew what to do with his natural upper body strength (when he was young, his parents had to stop him from doing too many pull-ups) and his problem-solving skills (he solved Rubik’s Cubes and played competitive chess). When he discovered kids his age could join a team at the gym, his competitive spirit kicked in. Despite starting climbing with a fear of heights, Nathaniel was climbing 5.10 within his first month. At age 14, Nathaniel placed fourth at the Youth Bouldering Nationals and realized that in a handful of years, he would have a shot at the national team. In 2015, his second year competing in world cups, Nathaniel took home two World Cup silver medals. He knew he had a bright future in competition climbing.
Ever the powerhouse, Nathaniel built his reputation in bouldering, but has developed the technical skills that make him a force to be reckoned with in the disciplines of lead and speed. That will benefit him when the 2020 Olympics take place in 2021. The event will controversially combine climber’s speed, bouldering and lead climbing results for an overall score. Nathaniel possesses the knowledge and stamina to prepare for a big event. Leading up to the 2019 Toulouse Olympic Qualifier, he followed a rigorous training cycle, climbing six hours a day and prioritizing sleep and nutrition. “It’s really special to be competing in climbing in the Olympics for the first time, but it will be over in eight hours—that’s surreal,” says Nathaniel. “I’m looking forward to interacting with other athletes in different sports, learning from them and seeing where climbing fits in.” In the meantime, Nathaniel is appreciating the extra year to take a step back and approach his training with a fresh point of view. He’ll take a more linear path to with his training, says Nathaniel, building strength slowly and treating each week as its own training cycle.
Competition climbing requires a specialized form of mental fortitude and ability to perform under pressure. “A lot of competition performance depends on who can manage their emotions throughout the round the best,” says Nathaniel. “You have to dedicate 50 minutes to not getting frustrated with yourself.” After every boulder, he returns to isolation and a quiet mental space that will help him move on to the next boulder refreshed. One of Nathaniel’s stress outlets is playing kendama, a Japanese ball-and-cup skill game that dates back to the 17th century. He’s known to practice in between competition rounds.
Nathaniel also resets by climbing outside—often in nearby Little Cottonwood Canyon or in the Utah desert, where he’s developed some 50 boulders. “It’s a completely different game,” says Nathaniel of outdoor climbing. “You have so much time to find the right headspace and perfect all the movements. It becomes about how well you can execute complex, well-rehearsed moves one after another.”
He dreams of sending the limestone boulders of Castle Hill, New Zealand and wants to spend time in Mallorca deep water soloing. He’s interested in the world-class bouldering in Switzerland and to wants develop his own projects in South Africa.
When Nathaniel moves on from competition climbing, he hopes to work for a nonprofit or organization that supports the causes he believes in. He wants to address the social issues that weigh on him head on. There’s no doubt in the minds of Nathaniel’s family, friends and fans that he can create positive change in the world. But first, he’ll represent his country on a bigger stage than ever before.
- Qualifying for the 2020 (or 2021) Olympic Games
- Silver medal at the 2015 Bouldering World Cup in Vail, CO
- 2015 Youth Sport National Champion
- 4x Bouldering Open National Champion
- Numerous first ascents in the San Rafael Swell, UT, including Power of the Psych (proposed V14)
- First ascent of Lee Majors (5.14c) in Celebrity Cave, AZ
- Speed of Sound (V14+) in Rocklands, South Africa