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An Olympic Champion and the End of an Era

Janja Garnbret becomes the Olympic Champion while Akiyo Noguchi retires from professional competition.

In what became Akiyo Noguchi’s last professional competition, Sport Climbing’s Final Olympic event did not disappoint.

Miho Nonaka, Janja Garnbret, and Akiyo Noguchi stand with their medals

Speed

This morning’s event began with Speed and featured an exciting display from the Speed specialists. Poland’s Aleksandra Miroslaw would ultimately defeat France’s Anouck Jaubert with a world and Olympic record-setting time of 6.84 seconds.

Racing for third and fourth, Japan’s Miho Nonaka and Akiyo Noguchi competed for the best result. Nonaka would win taking third. This put pressure on Garnbret who ran to fifth position.

Noguchi would settle just ahead of Garnbret in fourth, while American Brooke Raboutou took sixth. Austria’s Jessica Pilz would join Seo at the bottom of the field, each taking seventh and eighth respectively. The conclusion of the round saw the beginning of calculation. What would each athlete need to win?

Aleksandra Miroslaw sets the World Record at 6.84 seconds – Photo by Dimitris Tosidis

Boulder

The Boulder Finals began with Miroslaw. The delicate slab appeared too challenging for the Speed athlete and she would not progress. Jaubert would replace her and climb through the Zone on her second attempt.

At first, B1 seemed like an easy boulder for the round. Although slab always offers a challenge, the entire field established on the run-and-stand start. The next moves carried athletes through some larger fibreglass volumes. Despite its simplicity, the first move gave many trouble. Many climbers would spend the majority of their four minutes trying to dynamically hit a left-hand gaston. They would oppose the momentum of this move by pressing with their palms and stabbing with their feet.

Although most athletes would attempt the dynamic beta, Jaubert would find it easier to get a high right foot before reaching over to the yellow Cheeta volume. This beta earned her and Pilz a Zone. Nonaka would not be able to find it. This would put her in a challenging position.

As the field progressed, America’s Brooke Raboutou came close to completing B1. She fell trying to match. Out of time, Garnbret replaced Raboutou on the matts. She would take several attempts before becoming the only woman to secure the Top. This spoke to the difficulty of the boulder as Garnbret flashed all four Qualification problems two days before.

Brooke Raboutou – Photo by Dimitris Tosidis

On B2, Raboutou would again come close to finishing the technical problem. The boulder started between two volumes with two blue holds on the upper portion of the right box. On the left, a small foot offered purchase for athletes hoping to rock over toward the Zone.

Although establishing proved easy for all athletes, moving out of the established position through to the Zone often took several attempts. Pilz, Noguchi, and Nonaka each climbed through the Zone with some difficulty. Nonaka made it to the final move but slipped before committing.

At first it seemed Raboutou might not make the Zone due to her shorter stature. The strong American pressed hard, however, and worked her way into the shoulder press that would secure for her a Zone. Breathing hard, Raboutou came upon the end of the boulder with only a couple of seconds left. She tried to load up and go, but the clock would run down before she could make her move. Garnbret came out next. She flashed the unsent boulder earning praise from the crowd.

Although Garnbret continued to dominate the round, most athletes would have already projected the Slovenian to win Boulder. Nonaka would need to climb well in the event, but it would ultimately come down to Lead. That said, Nonaka would only be competitive in Lead if she could secure a Zone on B3.

Miho Nonaka – Photo by Dimitris Tosidis

After every climber before her tried and failed to reach the B3 Zone, Nonaka showed how she became Japan’s Olympian. Pulling onto two massive green volumes, she sunk a hand-toe-hook match on the left fibreglass before reaching up to a gibbed Flathold. Bearing down, Nonaka ripped out right to the slot and held the swing.

Nonaka would then gain some momentum and catch a toe-hook on a volume. Bicycling between that toe-hook and an opposing rail, Nonaka would cross hands, uncross, and prepare for Zone. Ultimately, her final dead point would give her a flash to Zone. This would be enough to partially make up for not making Zone on B1.

After falling in her effort for the next move, the top of the field would join Nonaka in attempting the problem. Nobody would make it past Nonaka, although Raboutou would, on her final go, join the Japanese athlete at the Zone. The biggest surprise, however, came from Garnbret.

The notoriously strong boulderer could not complete B3. Garnbret ended the round with two tops and a Zone. Although Garnbret may have defeated Raboutou on attempts regardless, the American came close to matching the Slovenian’s score. She punted both B1 and B2, and on another day, could have matched the Garnbret in Tops and Zones.

Janja Garnbret – Photo by Dimitris Tosidis

Lead

Finally, the results came to depend on the Lead event. Although tired, each athlete would have to give everything if they wished to make podium. Despite a good effort, Miroslaw would fall lowest on the route. Had she managed to outclimb Jaubert, Miroslaw would have made podium. Instead, she finished the combined in fourth.

Jaubert came out next and also climbed well. She fought hard through the bottom of the route but fell on account of fatigue. Each athlete appeared to approach their redline over the course of the event.

Raboutou came out next and at first appeared to be an exception. Although Raboutou did seem extremely tired at first, fatigue would cause the American to miss a hold. She would fall low.

Noguchi came out next. Wiping her shoes, the athlete appeared ready to give it for the route. Clearly exhausted, Noguchi climbed smooth through the bottom moves, working her way through the positive and plentiful grips. The route then carried her through some larger rails before a pocket sequence that, in failing to clip efficiently, wore her out. At this point, it seemed like she might fall.

Akiyo Noguchi – Photo by Leo Zhukov

Refusing to fail so low to the ground, Noguchi mustered her strength and pushed from resting position to resting position. Redlining, Noguchi still managed to climb higher up the sloping holds. Unable to clip, Noguchi loaded a small kick and fired the final movement of her competition climbing career. It was spectacular.

Garnbret would climb after Noguchi. Her facial expression described a focused athlete. Taking hold after hold, the Slovenian eliminated each grip and position. Her usually dynamic style was replaced with hand-over-hand control that required stable movement. Garnbret climbed through the sloping section that knocked Noguchi off of the wall. She moved into the crimp sequence at the top, falling maybe 10 moves from the finish. If she could hold her lead, she would win.

Nonaka came next. Knowing only the Garnbret had climbed for quite some time, the pressure to perform pressed down on the Japanese Olympian. Moving well, Nonaka busted through the first half of the route, but eventually hit fatigue. Nonaka had given almost everything in the Boulder event. She appeared extremely tired.

The gold medal became Garnbret’s as Nonaka fell. She would have required first to win. Pilz and Seo followed, each climbing high into the route, but falling before Garnbret’s highpoint.

Janja Garnbret – photo by Leo Zhukov

In a masterful display of proficiency, Garnbret became Sport Climbing’s Olympic Champion. Nonaka and Noguchi took silver and bronze in front of their home crowd. As the medals were distributed, the majesty of the moment became clear. After 17 years of World Cup experience, Team Japan’s Akiyo Noguchi concluded a legendary career medalling at home in the Olympic debut of the sport she gave her life to.

Lead Result
1 – Janja Garnbret (SLO)
2 – Chaehyun Seo (KOR)
3 – Jessica Pilz (AUT)
4 – Akiyo Noguchi (JPN)
5 – Miho Nonaka (JPN)
6 – Brooke Raboutou (USA)
7 – Anouck Jaubert (FRA)
8 – Aleksandra Miroslaw (POL)

Combined Result
1 – Janja Garnbret (SLO) 5.00
2 – Miho Nonaka (JPN) 45.00
3 – Akiyo Noguchi (JPN) 64.00
4 – Aleksandra Miroslaw (POL) 64.00
5 – Brooke Raboutou (84.00)
6 – Anouck Jaubert (84.00)
7 – Jessica Pilz (90.00)
8 – Chaehyun Seo (112.00)

Featured image of Janja Garnbret.