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Exclusive Interview with Climbing’s Olympic Gold Medal Champion

Slovenian Olympic Champion Janja Garnbret talks about being the favourite heading into Tokyo and the filming of The Wall: Climb for Gold

It was hard when people said I would win, that this is easy, that everything is easy for me when they do not know about what I was going through before the Olympics. – Janja Garnbret

Janja Garnbret moves on the wall

At 23-years-old, she has attained an almost mythic quality. With more victories to her name than any person before her, Janja Garnbret has become the greatest of all time. She is Sport Climbing’s original Olympic gold medal champion and the most recent World Cup victor. In media, Garnbret has become someone larger than life. Although she is one of the incredible athletes of our time, she is also a climber. She grew up in Slovenj Gradec from parents unfamiliar with the sport.

Slovenj Gradec is just an hour outside of the capital, Ljubljana. The country itself is small and you can drive across it in about three hours. Many western climbers cannot imagine the Slovenian countryside, but the space includes mountains and coastlines, lakes and forests and the many smaller crags that make up the country’s rock climbing.

When she started, there were already icons in Slovenian climbing, but the sport was small. At six-years-old, Garnbret fell in love with climbing. Less than a year later, she began competing. It became a part of her identity.

Today, 18 years later, she feels the same as when she started. “I just look different,” she said. “My personal relationship with climbing hasn’t changed. I get the same feeling now as when I was a kid. The same excited person, but just with a little more experience.”

Janja Garnbret between burns

As one of the great ambassadors for the sport, it is not surprising that she has retained the original awe so many new climbers find when they begin. That insatiable desire to progress is made more beautiful with time as it matures into a master’s philosophy.

For Garnbret, climbing is a beautiful sport. “It deserves everybody’s recognition.” She continued to describe its value through accessibility across age categories. “There are no rules on when to start climbing,” she said. “Climbing is for life; it is not just for one part of your life.” This love for the sport, and the propagation of climbing through to prospective participants was one reason Garnbret wanted to work on The Wall: Climb for Gold.

Over the course of these four months, Gripped interviewed and published pieces with Garnbret’s co-stars Brooke Raboutou and Shauna Coxsey. They each offered unique perspectives on the pressure of the Olympic Games, but Garnbret’s story differed from the rest.

Although both athletes have immense experience in the sport, Coxsey took the perspective of an athlete struggling to overcome injury, while Raboutou offered the lens of a 19-year-old college student that had to manage her life’s many priorities. For Garnbret, and her third and final co-star Miho Nonaka, the pressure was on winning.

Janja Garnbret sticks a volume

In the men’s category, several favourites existed, but Adam Ondra and Tomoa Naraski appeared the obvious picks. Still, the men’s field offered room for surprise. In the women’s field, the media’s perspective was one of certainty: Garnbret will win the Olympic Games.

This pressure pushed her hard. Although she said that she sought a silver lining, and interpreted the levied expectation as support, she also found it difficult that people thought it easy for her to win. Although the Slovenian is talented, it takes work to become the best in the world. It takes more work to maintain that position.

With the help of Roman Krajnik, her coach, Garnbret worked her weaknesses in order to prepare for the hardest competition of her life. “I feel like without him the journey to the Olympics wouldn’t have been possible. He put a lot of effort into making my dreams a reality. I may be the one wearing the medal, but he is why everything worked. I trust him 100% and he trusts me, and I believe that’s why it’s working.

“He is the best coach on the planet, there is no secret. The secret is just that we are training hard. He always has a good plan and he knows me very well. He knows my weaknesses, he knows what I am good at. We communicate everything. If there is a problem, I tell him what is bothering me.”

Although there are many reasons to watch The Wall: Climb for Gold, a climber may find one of the most inspiring causes in the work displayed by Garnbret and Krajnik in training. Her frustration, at times, is palpable, and Krajnik’s unshakable demeanor carries no illusions of grandeur. He knows it will take everything for her to win and feels the pressure with her.

What’s more, Krajnik does not appear to push Garnbret outside of her values relating to the sport. As previously mentioned by Garnbret, climbing is for life. It is a long-term love that is personal and comprehensive. Following the end of her Olympic season, she decided to compete in the Slovenia-hosted World Cup. Although she had plans to compete at the World Championships, the two-year period of training and focus gave way to a need for rest. Garnbret took a month away from climbing to recharge and reflect.

Returning to training, Garnbret pushed on into 2022 with the Boulder World Cup Series opener in Meiringen, Switzerland. She won gold and decided to conclude her Boulder Series on that high note.

“I’ve decided to skip the [rest of the] Boulder season this year. The Olympics last year were a pretty hard take on physical and mental preparation, so I feel that I need a little time off from comps and this year is the perfect year to do that. I already have [the Olympic Games in] Paris in mind!”

In taking rest, the world will wait to see what the champion does next. For now, download The Wall: Climb for Gold here, or stream it in the UK on Netflix May 1, 2022.