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Olympic Podium Preview: Women’s Climbing

The Women's field is filled with podium-ready candidates. We take an evidence based approach to Olympic podium projections.

In one week, Sport Climbing will debut on the Olympic Stage. While many will wonder about the routes or the setting, the greatest questions will concern the Olympic podium. Who can win this unprecedented format?

Akiyo Noguchi – Photo by Jan Virt

The Defending Champion

The women’s category features the almost unstoppable Slovenian World Champion, Janja Garnbret. Garnbret began climbing in elementary school. By 2013 she would become the European Junior Champion. In 2014, 2015, and 2016, she won gold at the World Junior Championships.

Between 2016 and 2019, the now-24-year-old athlete would win most every competition she entered. She would establish records for consistency, at one point winning six consecutive events in the Boulder World Cup Circuit. In Hachioji, she would qualify for the Olympics in first position and appeared almost untouchable on the international stage.

The Contenders

Of the 20 women competing in the Qualification round on August 4, only eight will go to Finals. Of the women heading to Finals, only three will make the podium. Although all 20 athletes climb well, a few competitors have a better chance of making Finals than others. Based on the World Cup results from this last year, American Brooke Raboutou [3:4:6], Italian Laura Rogora [2:3:9], Japan’s Miho Nonaka [1:5:6] and Japan’s Akiyo Noguchi [1:4:5] each seem like they could make Finals. (results broken by [podium : finals : appearances])

Miho Nonaka – Photo by Daniel Gajda

Finally, Korea’s Chae-hyun Seo has shown impressive strength and potential. She took gold for the 2019 IFSC Lead World Cup title with four gold medals, one silver medal and one bronze. Seo beat Janja Garnbret but did not compete in the 2021 World Cup Circuit. She also won the Asian Championships in Boulder and Lead in 2019.

These results from the top ranked World Cup Olympians, along with Seo, outclimb the remaining 14 qualified athletes. Rogora’s potency comes from the fact that she won a World Cup and took second in another. Her second placement came as a result of countbacks as she topped the route. This shows proficiency. None of the other listed athletes won any of the World Cups this season. That said, these Olympians did not train specifically for the World Cups. They would have focused their training for Tokyo.

The Dark Horse Candidates

Although the above have a great chance of making podium, several other athletes could surprise the competition. American Kyra Condie has an unreal amount of strength. Although she had a tough season, she has the capacity to perform in Tokyo. Austria’s Jessica Pilz also has a real chance of making Finals; however, she fully ruptured her A4 pulley in her left ring finger in Salt Lake City. Although it is arguably better to rupture the A4 pulley than the A2, this injury would prevent Pilz from climbing within her peak potential. Her performance will depend on her recovery and rehabilitation.

Janja Garnbret – Photo by Daniel Gajda

With the contenders established, it becomes easier to look at who might take podium. All projections have Garnbret winning, although Seo could offer a unique upset. With that said, the competition appears most significant for silver and bronze.

Miho Nonaka and Brooke Raboutou

Based on this season, it might seem that Nonaka has the best chance at the silver medal. This results from her consistency in making Boulder, Lead and Speed Finals. This builds her out as a strong Combined competitor, however she hurt her knee at Innsbruck and her recovery remains uncertain. Furthermore, Raboutou has made more podiums in fewer competitions. This would suggest that she has a better chance at making podium. That said, Raboutou has difficulty in Speed, Nonaka could win Speed given the right field.

Chae-hyun Seo

Seo represents the ultimate dark horse for this competition. Although she won the Asian Championships in 2019, she did not have to compete against either Nonaka nor Noguchi. With that said, neither Nonaka nor Noguchi could outclimb Seo for the 2019 Lead World Cup title. Garnbret also fell short of Seo. As such, Seo could become a difficult contestant to beat.

Laura Rogora

If Rogora made podium, it would mean that she achieved her best Boulder Final of the season. It does not seem likely that Noguchi would make podium, but if other athletes made mistakes, her consistency could earn her a top position.

Brooke Raboutou – Photo by Daniel Gajda

Projected Results:

  1. Janja Garnbret (SLO)
  2. Chae-hyun Seo (KOR)
  3. Brooke Raboutou (USA)

Alternates

  • Miho Nonaka (JPN)

Ultimately, the competition will decide its victors. Projections based on the World Cups are incomplete due to the fact that the setting will be different, and the event is three-fold. Still, it will be interesting to see who brings performance and whether the best can climb without mistakes.

Featured Image of Brooke Raboutou by Daniel Gajda