Most climbers didn’t know of eighteen-year-old Nathaniel Coleman until last Sunday when he took silver at the Bouldering World Cup in Toronto. It’s no wonder we hadn’t heard his name before— Nathaniel has only competed in one previous World Cup, last year in Vail, where he finished 22nd.

In this interview, Nathaniel tells us about training for competitions, balancing high school with a passion for rock climbing, and how it felt to beat Adam Ondra in the World Cup.

Nathaniel Coleman

How did you get into climbing?

My friend Palmer Larsen recommended I try climbing out. He had just joined the Momentum Team and was really enjoying it. I agreed to come to one of his practices, loved it, and joined the team soon after that.

What kind of climber are you? Sport, bouldering, trad, alpine, a little bit of everything?

I’ve always been a boulderer, but I’m also beginning to really enjoy sport climbing as well. It’s just such a pain to build the necessary endurance!

Do you find it hard to balance school, a social life, and climbing?

My “balancing” of school, friends, and climbing is more of a prioritized list. I never skip out on training, and if that means missing a movie with friends or a bit of school, so be it. But rarely do I not have time for all three!

Nathaniel Coleman

Photo: Eddie Fowke

Have you ever competed in a World Cup before? What did you do to prepare for this World Cup?

I did compete at Vail last year, and was one spot out of semifinals. This year I’m competing in Toronto, Vail, and Munich.

To prepare, I had my coaches (Noah Bigwood and Kyle O’Meara) and a local training legend (Steve Maisch) put together a training cycle that was more intense than anything I’d done before. I also attended the first US Team Training Camp, held in Boulder and Denver, Colorado, where we had a chance to practice World Cup style problems and had one-on-one coaching from Kilian Fischhuber. I think that was the most helpful experience I’ve ever had as far as competition climbing goes.

Does the atmosphere of a climbing comp help your performance, or does it get to your head? How do you handle nerves/anxiety during competitions?

Nathaniel on the World Cup men’s slab problem. He was one of only two athletes to top this boulder. Photo: Eddie Fowke

During competitions, I feel like I climb significantly STRONGER than in training. I think this is due to the adrenaline. But in competition, I don’t always climb as creatively and efficiently as I do in training.

Often I’ll find myself getting “tunnel vision,” unable to change beta even if it may be obvious to the crowd that I’m doing it wrong. I think this is due to the pressure and what I think others expect from me. At the Toronto World Cup, I felt almost zero pressure to perform since I qualified in last place for both semis and finals, and that was definitely a huge factor in how well I did.

As far as nerves and anxiety, sometimes I’ll have a hard time getting to sleep the night before I compete, but while I’m in the chair waiting to climb, I don’t feel the nerves as much. I think I’ve just gotten used to it over the 8 years.

What was it like to compete against some of our sport’s legends? Were you “starstruck” by anyone?

It was unreal to see so many people I look up to in one building. I certainly idolize people like Jan, Juliane, Anna, and Jakob. But the person I was most psyched to see was certainly Adam Ondra … I think just because he had won the overall recently and seemed to be nearly unstoppable. So obviously it was a strange feeling to beat him. I almost didn’t feel worthy! But I reminded myself that competition isn’t a precise measurement of who’s the best climber—it’s a rough estimation at best.


Related: On Projects, Training, and the Future of Climbing: An Interview With Alex Johnson


If you could give one piece of advice to a beginner climber, what would it be?

Advice to a beginner climber: you’ll make more gains in the long run by developing your technique rather than strength. Of course both are ideal, but body position awareness, foot placement, and fluid movement will more often than not be the key to unlocking a difficult move.

If you could give one piece of advice to a v15/5.15 climber, what would it be?

I actually don’t have anything, but I think that the climbing community could progress as a whole if the top athletes were very open with recommending workouts, giving beta, and just spreading the psych by being friendly!

What are your plans for the future?

Plans for the future include attending the University of Utah for the next spring semester (taking the fall semester off to climb). I’d certainly love to keep competing, but I’m aware that to find the time and money while in college will be … challenging.
In addition, I’d just like to shoutout my head coach, Kyle O’Meara, my primary training gym, Momentum Indoor Climbing, and the USA Climbing Team. Without their support, none of this would have been possible.

The podium at the World Cup in Toronto. Nathaniel Coleman (silver), Alban Levier (gold), Adam Ondra (bronze). Photo credit: Ángel González

A huge congratulations to Nathaniel not only for taking silver in Toronto, but also for his recent high school graduation. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts with us and we can’t wait to see what you’ll do next!