Published: 10:04, May 19, 2024
Mawem's Olympic dream in the making
By Xinhua
Mickael Mawem, of France, participates during the lead qualification portion of the men's sport climbing competition at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Aug 3, 2021, in Tokyo, Japan. (PHOTO / AP)

SHANGHAI - Mickael Mawem didn't start his Lead attempt until the one-minute countdown was over, appearing hesitant as he walked toward the climbing wall.

He quickly got past the lowest holds but began to slow down as he moved up the overhanging section. Mickael had to stop in front of a big rounded hold, resting his arms and dipping his hands into the chalk bag. After spending more than 30 seconds trying to find a proper position, Mickael finally lost his grip, ending his Lead qualification with 22.1 points.

If Mickael qualifies, Paris would be their (Mickael and his brother) second Olympic appearance together. As the only black climbers competing at Tokyo 2020, they both made the first-ever Olympic sport climbing final, with Bassa setting the Olympic speed climbing record of 5.45 seconds

Combined with 24.0 points from the Boulder qualification earlier on Thursday, Mickael ranked 42nd among 46 men's Boulder and Lead climbers at the Olympic Qualifier Series in Shanghai, totaling 46.1 points and failing to qualify for the semifinal.

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Mickael still has a theoretical chance to make it to the Paris Olympic Games if his combined points rank in the top 12 in men's Boulder and Lead after the Budapest OQS, scheduled for June 20 to 23.

"My goal is to join my brother at the Olympics," said a determined Mickael at the 2024 IFSC Climbing World Cup in Keqiao, Zhejiang province, last month. His older brother Bassa had already secured a ticket to Paris after winning the IFSC European Qualifier Rome 2023.

If Mickael qualifies, Paris would be their second Olympic appearance together. As the only black climbers competing at Tokyo 2020, they both made the first-ever Olympic sport climbing final, with Bassa setting the Olympic speed climbing record of 5.45 seconds.

Their journey to the Olympics was never easy.

"I have three sisters and two brothers. We had a hard life as children, but we supported each other and evolved together to have a better life. Without my family, I wouldn't be here (climbing) for sure," Mickael told

"My mother has had such a difficult life including some serious illnesses. But she's still here and sacrificed a lot in order to give her children a good life. We didn't have much in our lives, but everything we did have, we took full advantage of and did it thoroughly," he added.

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Having moved from French Guiana to Nimes, Cameroon, and finally to Alsace, France, and facing discrimination due to their skin color, the Mawems found that climbing could change their lives.

Mickael Mawem of France competes during the boulder qualification of men's boulder & lead of sport climbing at the Olympic Qualifier Series Shanghai in east China's Shanghai, May 16, 2024. (PHOTO / XINHUA)

"Climbing, training, climbing, training. It's the life. You wake up, you have breakfast, you go climbing, after you take a break, I take just one week of holiday per year," Mickael said.

Despite being active in international competitions since 2014 and making it to the French national team, Mickael's first world title was long overdue until the 2023 IFSC Sport Climbing World Championships in Bern last August.

As the oldest climber in the men's boulder final, Mickael was the only athlete to reach three tops after three rounds and eventually became world champion after reaching the zone marker in the final round.

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"It's a dream, a dream come true," said the then 33-year-old. "I worked a lot, a lot, a lot for that. I trained for 20 years. I competed in that event for 10 years. When I was 15 years old, I said, 'OK, I want to be the best climber in the world one time in my life'. Every year I'm here, and today I am [the champion] and that's crazy.

"My best day in sport is today. In the end of this climbing, after the four boulders, I have the zone. It's my best moment. I just realized that now I'm the best, and that's crazy."

The success didn't last for Mickael, as he finished 10th at the IFSC European Qualifier Laval 2023 and 15th in Keqiao. After exiting early in Shanghai, Mickael didn't take any interviews on either day, but he did express his anticipation for Paris in Keqiao.

"It's the last goal both for me and my brother," he said. "Because after this season, we will stop climbing, stop competing. It's been a long time. Now we need to take the time for the family."