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Climbing-France's Mawem brothers reach final as injury fear casts shadow

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Tokyo 2020 staff participate in a test event for the sports climbing, replacing the athletes due to concerns over the spread of coronavirus at Aomi Urban Sports Park in Tokyo, Japan, March 6, 2020. REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov

  • Eight of 20 through to men's final in Olympic debut
  • Bassa Mawem appears injured after lead event
  • U.S. teen Duffy finishes top 10 in all three disciplines

TOKYO, Aug 3 (Reuters) - French siblings Bassa and Mickael Mawem reached the final of the men's climbing competition, but questions remain about the former's prospects after he appeared injured at the end of the qualifying round during the sport's Olympic debut on Tuesday.

Mickael, who turned 31 on Tuesday, leads the field of eight athletes who will compete for a single gold medal, climbing's first, in three events - speed, a vertical sprint; bouldering, which tests problem-solving skills on low walls; and lead, a technical climb against the clock.

Twenty of the world's top climbers shone in their first appearance on the Olympic stage before mostly empty stands at the Aomi Urban Sports Park with fans absent amid strict pandemic restrictions.

More than a third of the field posted personal bests in the opening speed event, with 36-year-old Bassa - the oldest competitor - leading after sprinting up in his fastest time of 5.45 seconds, just short of the world record of 5.20.

The result kept Bassa, a speed specialist, in contention despite poor performances later. The Frenchman was unable to complete any of the bouldering problems, and appeared to sustain an injury during the lead event, falling off the wall and leaving the venue clutching his arm.

It was a bittersweet day for Mickael, who came in a strong third behind his older sibling in the speed race, before dominating the bouldering contest.

Following the lead event, Mickael said he had not been briefed on Bassa's condition, but stressed that the brothers would go to the final together.

"We (will) go to the final for sure, we go to the final and just that, it is the first goal," said Mickael.

"We wake up together, we eat together, we go play some games together, we walk together."

Seventeen-year-old American Colin Duffy, the youngest climber in the field, was impressive in his Games debut, becoming the only competitor to finish in the top 10 in all three events. read more

He finished third in the qualifier behind top Japanese contender, Tomoa Narasaki.

Duffy's compatriot Nathaniel Coleman also qualified with a strong performance in the lead event, moving him up to eighth from 13th after the first two rounds.

The Czech Republic's Adam Ondra, also widely considered as a top medal contender, was 18th in speed, his weakest discipline, but rebounded strongly in the following two events, finishing fifth.

The unusual combined format - the climbing equivalent of a triathlon - has pushed athletes out of their comfort zones with the ranking system creating plenty of potential for upsets.

While the combined format favours all-rounders in Tokyo, climbing will be split into speed and a combined bouldering and lead event at the Paris Games in 2024.

Reporting by Sam Nussey and Rozanna Latiff; Editing by Lincoln Feast/Ed Osmond/Ken Ferris/Christian Radnedge

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