Piper Kelly

Gold Medal and Ticket to Paris for Piper Kelly

by Tom Kelly, USA Climbing

Piper Kelly poses on the podium after winning gold in the women's speed finals at the Pan American Games Santiago 2023 on Oct. 21, 2023 in Santiago, Chile. (Photo by Getty Images)

SANTIAGO, Chile In a dramatic finish to what was a crazy evening of speed climbing, Indianapolis native Piper Kelly stormed to a gold medal at the Pan American Games Santiago 2023 in Santiago, Chile, with it clinching an Olympic berth for the Olympic Games Paris 2024. Right behind Kelly, winning silver, was teammate Emma Hunt, who had already sealed her spot two months ago at the 2023 world championships.

It was the biggest victory of Kelly’s career, setting a personal best competition time of 7.52 seconds. It came in an emotional event where all three U.S. women had a shot at gold. In the first semifinal, Hunt went up against Ecuador’s Andrea Rojas and took the win to move on. The other semifinal heat was all Team USA, ensuring that either Kelly or teammate Sophia Curcio a shot at the Paris qualifying slot. Kelly took the win to set up the matchup with Hunt for gold.

With their two Olympic berths already sealed going into the final, Hunt had a false start ending her bid. Kelly, meanwhile, took her final run setting the personal best.

“I had a really great training block leading up to Pan Am Games,” said Kelly. “I actually moved to Utah to train for this about six weeks ago. The training was going really, really well so I knew I could do it. But speed climbing has a very low margin of error – I knew it still was not going to be easy. I'm just really excited to have gotten it done and performed.”

Hunt went out on a false start in the finals with the smallest possible mathematic margin, just .01 seconds off the threshold. She and Kelly shared emotions after the event with the two knowing they had both clinched Olympic spots.

“I'm so excited because I get to have someone on this adventure with me,” Hunt said. “It's so cool that we filled the quota.”

The one, two, four finish was emblematic of the progression the team has been making.

“Coming into this we'd all gone through a lot of preparation with the athletes on and off the wall,” said USA Climbing Speed Team Manager Matthew Maddison. “So the expectations were high! We're very proud of the team that we've put together over the last few years.”

Maddison also recognized Curcio, who is just 17, for her showing. “Kudos to Sophia for doing so well and keeping her head high,” he added. “I know that she will continue to do well into the future.”

Kelly also spoke to the bigger picture about the enthusiasm for the sport globally, its debut in the Pan American Games and growing interest in America. “It's really exciting to see the direction that climbing is going, but also that the direction that Team USA is going. We are really putting in the work back at home to make sure we have the resources and the training that we need, so that when we get here, we can perform and do our best and show the benefits of all the hard work that we've done.”

The USA has now clinched both women’s quota spots in speed climbing, while Colin Duffy secured his boulder-lead spot at the world championships in August. Sunday’s program will open in the morning with women’s boulder and lead semifinals, capping off in the evening with the men’s speed finals.