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Top climbers seeking to use world championships in Hachioji as springboard to 2020 Games

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

Japanese climbers are fired up to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics during the IFSC Climbing World Championships, which kicks off on home soil on Sunday.

The event will be held at Esforta Arena Hachioji, which is located on the outskirts of the Japanese capital, and conclude on Aug. 21.

Although they also have individual disciplines — bouldering, lead and speed — to contend in, the participating climbers will perhaps put an emphasis more on the combined competitions because the sport will make its Summer Games debut next year in a combined form under the name “sport climbing.”

One top Japanese finisher each from the men’s and women’s field that will be placed seventh or better in the combined disciplines will automatically book a spot in the Tokyo Olympics.

A total of 20 men and 20 women will compete at the Olympics.

The best seven climbers in both the men’s and women’s combined competitions at the world championships will also be competing in Tokyo next summer. The other 13 spots will be determined during an Olympics qualifying event and the continental championships.

Japan will use the Combined Japan Cup, which is scheduled to be hosted (at a TBA site) in May, as an Olympic trial, too.

Tomoa Narasaki, who captured the season title in bouldering on this year’s World Cup circuit, is aiming a gold medal, not just an Olympic berth, at worlds.

“I won the season championships of the bouldering World Cup circuit and it’s given me confidence. And I’ve gotten better feelings for speed and lead as well,” the 23-year-old said at a news conference at a Hachioji hotel on Saturday. “So I can get in the world championships with confidence. I’ll try to be the best in the world here, rather than trying to be the top Japanese finisher to earn a spot for the Olympics.”

Top veteran female climber Akiyo Noguchi has already decided to retire from the sport after the Olympics. The 30-year-old wants to clinch a berth to the Tokyo Games this time, which would enable her to fully focus on training.

“The Hachioji event will be my last world championships,” said Noguchi, who placed fourth in the combined competition at last year’s worlds in Innsbruck, Austria. “Looking back from the time I started the sport when I was 16, I don’t recall seeing this many press people at the world championships. There wasn’t even a press conference like this back then. And it’s incredible that I can compete at the world championships in Japan.

“I’d like to make this World Championships as best as possible for me, and earn a spot for next year’s Olympics so that I’ll be able to have better preparation in the next year.”

Meanwhile, Jakob Schubert of Austria enters the Hachioji event as the reigning men’s combined gold medalist yet he said his mindset is different this time.

“Last year was actually kind of a surprise to win the combined,” the 28-year-old said. “My biggest goal was to win in front of my home crowd in Innsbruck, Austria, especially in lead.

“This year, the goal is completely different. I’ve been preparing trying to do well in the combined discipline because my main goal is to qualify for next year, for the Olympics in Tokyo.”