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Slovenia’s Janja Ganbret took the women’s title in the debut Olympic sport climbing competition after dominant performances in the bouldering and lead competitions, edging out Japanese hopefuls Miho Nonaka, who took silver, and Akiyo Noguchi, who won bronze.

In the speed climbing section of the competition, Aleksandra Miroslaw set a new world record in women’s speed climbing with a time of 6.84 seconds to place first. Nonaka and Noguchi placed third and fourth, respectively, giving each other a big hug after competing against each other in the third/fourth place run off.

“I’ve been waiting to break the record. I have come close many times, and so I am very happy to have done it at the Olympic Games,” said Miroslaw, who won the speed climbing world championships in 2018 and 2019. “This was the best place to do it, at the Olympics.”

Janja Garnbret hangs on during the lead competition of women's sport climbing., | AFP-JIJI
Janja Garnbret hangs on during the lead competition of women’s sport climbing., | AFP-JIJI

Following the speed-climbing, the athletes faced a fiendishly challenging bouldering section. While in the men’s finals Thursday, six climbers managed to reach the top of at least one of the three bouldering routes, in the women’s only one climber managed to top any of them: Garnbret, a six-time world champion, who topped out on two of the three routes to comfortably win the discipline.

For Garnbret the difficulty of the routes was part of the fun.

“I really wished that in the Olympics, it would really show who is the best,” she said. “I wanted a hard bouldering route, a hard route to really show who is the best and I got that, so I’m really happy with the (route) settings.”

Entering the lead climbing section of the night, Garnbret led the pack on a score of 5.00, followed by Miroslaw on 8.00 and Nonaka on 9.00, with the rest of the climbers close behind. EDM and techno blasted out of the speakers at Aomi Urban Sports Park as the athletes climbed, urging them to the top.

Miho Nonaka of Japan in action on Friday. | POOL / VIA REUTERS
Miho Nonaka of Japan in action on Friday. | POOL / VIA REUTERS

Ganbret took first place in the lead, giving her gold with a total score of 5.00. Nonaka finished fifth in the lead for a final score of 45.00 and Noguchi finished fourth in the lead for a final score of 64.00.

“This was the hardest competition in my entire career,” Garnbret said. “Hats off to the route-setters, because this was amazing. … It was super hard, especially mentally. But I feel pretty confident in bouldering and lead.”

For 32-year-old Noguchi, her lead climb was also the final climb of her 16-year competitive career. She is set to retire after Tokyo 2020, having won 21 Boulder World Cup gold medals.

“For me, this is the last competition as an athlete, and this is a very good ending and the best memory of my athletic career,” Noguchi said.

“(Miho and I) practiced together every day prior to the Games,” she added. “She can run faster than me, and she is a great partner in bouldering. We have enhanced each other’s performances. Only two Japanese athletes could enter this competition, and we have both won a medal. I’m very proud of that.”

Gold medalist Janja Garnbret (center) hugs silver medalist Miho Nonaka (left) and bronze medalist Akiyo Noguchi after competing in the women's sport climbing lead final at Aomi Urban Sports Park in Tokyo on Friday. | AFP-JIJI
Gold medalist Janja Garnbret (center) hugs silver medalist Miho Nonaka (left) and bronze medalist Akiyo Noguchi after competing in the women’s sport climbing lead final at Aomi Urban Sports Park in Tokyo on Friday. | AFP-JIJI

Sport climbing made its debut at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics with each athlete competing in the speed, bouldering and lead climbing disciplines to give a final combined score. This format has come under criticism from climbers due to the different skill sets required for speed climbing and the other two disciplines.

At the 2024 Paris Games, the competition will be split into a combined bouldering and lead competition, and a speed competition.

“I would want to have separate medals for all three disciplines (bouldering, lead, and speed),” Garnbret said when asked about the mix of disciplines at 2024.

“But if that’s not possible, then we have to take this,” she added. “We are happy that speed is a separate discipline because it’s very different from bouldering and lead. So this is a good thing. But I really hope that at the (Los Angeles) Olympics, we will have three sets of medals.”

Athletes faced 30 degree temperatures and 69% humidity at the venue.

Akiyo Noguchi gets a leg up during the women's lead during competition of sport climbing. | REUTERS
Akiyo Noguchi gets a leg up during the women’s lead during competition of sport climbing. | REUTERS

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