While he won't be competing, Alex Honnold tells PEOPLE he's thrilled to watch some of the world's best climbers perform on the international stage

Alex Honnold
Credit: jimmy chin

For the first time in Olympic history, climbers will be earning medals.

And while he won't be competing, Alex Honnold told PEOPLE he's thrilled to watch some of the world's best perform on the international stage.

"I just know that all the competitors will be peaking for this," he said before qualifiers began this week. "This is a real moment where I'm expecting to see climbing greatness. We're seeing 40 of the best climbers in the world perform it at the highest level that they ever have probably, and I'm excited to see what that brings out."

Over the past year, Honnold has been preparing for this moment on his podcast, Climbing Gold. Since the Tokyo Olympics were postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Honnold took the opportunity to tell the story of sport climbing from the beginning.

Season one of the podcast uses a narrative format to take "a deeper look at the history of climbing, which I think has actually turned out to be really useful for me at least," he explained. "I've just learned so much more about the roots of climbing and what that means as it goes into the Olympics."

Alex Honnold
Credit: Ryan Deegan

For season two, Honnold will be getting into the "nitty gritty" of the Olympic competition.

The Olympians will be judged on three climbing disciplines: speed climbing, bouldering, and lead climbing. The multiplied result of each climber's three scores will determine their final score — a scoring method that "tends to favor specialists," he explained.

"I was told by somebody at the IFSC (International Federation of Sport Climbing) that that scoring method was chosen by the competitors," he continued. "All the competitors specialize in specific disciplines normally during the World Cup season. So, I think they wanted to bring that level of specialization to the Olympics as well."

The inclusion of the sport in the Olympics is certainly an exciting moment for Honnold and his fellow professional climbers. However, the Free Solo star added that it has been even more satisfying to watch climbing become more accessible on a recreational level.

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"The interesting thing is that climbing is already seeing tremendous growth, just because of gyms opening up and people having access to climbing," he told PEOPLE. "So it's hard to imagine that climbing being in the Olympics is really going to change the trajectory that climbing is already on."

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Honnold has also been doing plenty of climbing himself, including recently spending a month in the Alps studying mountaineering.

"None of it's going to be Free Solo 2 or something," he joked of his upcoming projects. "That's kind of the blessing and the curse of Free Solo is that nothing I do now is going to be quite as meaningful as that, but in terms of personal climbing, it's all just as fun for me."

"I think one of the beauties of climbing is that because it's such a broad sport, it's easy to keep your passion alive because you can constantly vary between the disciplines," he said. "It gets you really fired up."

To learn more about Team USA, visit TeamUSA.org. Watch the Tokyo Olympics now on NBC.