Get access to everything we publish when you sign up for Outside+.
21-year-old YuFei Pan is the only male Olympic climber from the People’s Republic of China, and one of two Chinese climbers heading to Tokyo. Pan will compete alongside female Speed climber and former Speed world record holder YiLing Song (20).
Pan’s career on the IFSC open circuit began in 2017. He’s since made two podiums (both in Lead). In the 2019 season, he placed 17th in Boulder, 13th in Lead, and 54th in Speed. This result showed that, if nothing else, he isn’t as specialized as many other climbers (which is a good thing with the Tokyo Combined format in mind). Pan is acknowledged as the top end of China’s competitive climbing scene, and a climber to watch in the years to come.
He has not competed since the IFSC Combined Qualifier in December of 2019, where both he and Song earned their Olympic berths, however, so it remains to be seen how the stresses and limitations of the COVID-19 pandemic have affected his climbing. He did manage to put on an especially stout showing in Toulouse, with a 6th place overall finish consisting of a 6th in Lead, 4th in Boulder, and 3rd in Speed.
Compared to most other Olympic climbers, Pan is not particularly active on social media (his last Instagram post was in January 2020, and did not mention his Olympic qualification), so we have little insight into his preparations for and thoughts on the upcoming Olympics. Following the 2019 Boulder World Cup season, he wrote, “Learned a lot from those competitions. [Especially] controlling the mind during the competition. Still need to improve a lot.”
Pan is a relatively young climber, and definitely has the chops to do well in a Combined format, though it would seem a stretch for him to overcome top-end competitors in Tokyo. If he continues his progression, however, Pan could be a strong contender for Paris 2024.
The 20-year-old Song, who also began her professional career on the open circuit in 2017, rocketed to fame when she took three Speed golds in the 2019 IFSC World Cup season, eventually taking the Speed gold for the season. In the process, she nabbed the Speed world record from Iuliia Kaplina with a time of 7.101 seconds at the Chongqing World Cup, where she also took gold. The record held until that October, when it was taken by Aries Susanti Rahayu in Xiamen. Kaplina now holds the record yet again, with a time of 6.964.
Song, unfortunately, suffered a muscle strain during Olympic qualifiers in Toulouse that year, but still managed to place 9th overall, just out of finals. Luckily, the placement was enough to win her an Olympic ticket, since so many of those ahead of her had already qualified for Tokyo.
Like Pan, Song has not competed internationally since 2019, so there isn’t much to go off of as far as her progression in the last two years. She isn’t well-versed in multiple disciplines, with a career that mainly focuses on Speed competitions, so it’s unlikely that she’ll be able to land near the top of the overall rankings in Tokyo. Song has, however, cemented herself as one of the best Speed climbers in the world, and given her young age, is surely a competitor to watch in years to come. If a new Speed world record will be set in Tokyo, it’s not a stretch to imagine Song being one to set it.