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Sport climbers Janja Garnbret, Akiyo Noguchi achieve dream by qualifying for 2020 Olympics

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

Olympic favorite Janja Garnbret defended her world title, while Akiyo Noguchi secured a spot for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics with a runner-up finish in the women’s combined event at the IFSC World Championships at Esforta Arena Hachioji on Tuesday.

Garnbret, a 20-year-old Slovenian, secured the gold medal by finishing sixth, second and first in the speed, bouldering and lead disciplines, respectively.

Scores were determined by multiplying the athletes’ finishing position in each of the three disciplines, and climbers with lower scores were placed higher in the combined event. The scoring system will also be used at the Olympics.

“I didn’t have the best start in speed, I didn’t have the best start in bouldering,” said Garnbret, who captured the Bouldering World Cup season title by winning all six meets this year. “But I enjoyed every single round and it just feels amazing. I have had a dream season.”

Garnbret, who won the 2018 world combined title in Innsbruck, Austria, has now punched a ticket to the Olympics, where she’ll be the heavy favorite to win gold.

“I’ve qualified for the Olympics, which is amazing, of course,” she said with a smile. “I will celebrate today.”

The combined discipline, known as sport climbing, makes its Olympic debut in Tokyo, where each country can dispatch as many as two athletes apiece to the men’s and women’s competitions.

Noguchi, who was fourth in the combined event last year, got off to a slow start, slipping to seventh in the speed portion of the competition. But she bounced back to take first place in bouldering and remain in the mix for the gold medal. But she came up short in the end, placing third in the lead.

Per the criterion set by the Japan Mountaineering and Sport Climbing Association, the top Japanese male and female to finish in the top seven at the world championships will earn berths for the 2020 Summer Games.

“It feels like a dream. I can’t believe this yet,” said Noguchi, who also finished second in the individual bouldering event last Wednesday. “I didn’t think I would really get (Olympic berth). I’m out of words.”

Britain’s Shaunae Coxsey was second, third and seventh in the three disciplines to earn the bronze medal.

Three other Japanese qualified for the final, with Miho Nonaka, Ai Mori and Futaba Ito placing fifth, sixth and seventh in the final standings, respectively.

Noguchi has revealed the Tokyo Olympics will be her final competition, but had said she would’ve retired right away had she not qualified for the 2020 Games.

“I was second in the bouldering, I was second in the World Cup circuit (this year). And I was second today, too,” the 30-year-old said. “I’ll train hard so that I can shoot for first place next year (at the Olympics).”

On Wednesday, the final day of the 11-day world championships, the men’s combined will be held, providing others with an opportunity to qualify for the Olympics.

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