Janja Garnbret won the gold medal in women’s speed climbing
Even before the final scores were calculated, Slovenian Janja Garnbret, the best athletic climber of recent years, dropped her head in her hands and shed tears.
She came to the Tokyo Games as the favorite to win the women’s sport climbing event in her Olympic debut, and said she felt immense pressure to win. And even under all that stress, she did.
Japanese climbers joined her on the medal podium: Miho Nonaka won the silver medal and Akiyo Noguchi won the bronze.
“It was the toughest competition of my entire career,” said Garnbret. “It was really super tough, especially mentally.”
In front of non-paying spectators, with music pulsing throughout the outdoor arena and the announcer cheering on the climbers saying, “Come on, push! And “Bring it!” Garnbret climbed onto walls of faux boulders and man-made rocks further than her competition on Saturday.
Garnbret finished first in two of the three climbing disciplines which were combined into one Olympic event. In Speed Climbing, the first of three climbing segments in the Final, competitors sprint to the top of a wall, using memory and sheer power. She finished fifth to prepare for the rest of her evening.
“From that point on, it was actually easier,” she said.
She then finished first in bouldering, forcing climbers to problem-solve when climbing multiple climbing walls without a rope, and she reached the top of two of the three walls. None of its seven competitors could even reach the top of one.
Sometimes hung only by her chalk-covered red fingernails, Garnbret, 22, was also No. 1 in the lead, the segment in which competitors use a rope to see how far they can climb a technical wall given a quantity defined time.
As she and the other medalists stepped onto the podium, the biggest cheers came when the Japanese climbers were announced. Not only did the volunteers in the stands cheer Nonaka and Noguchi, groups of fans who had gathered on a large catwalk next to the arena also jumped up and down in euphoria. These fans were warned not to stop to watch the event, even from afar, by volunteers holding signs telling them to keep walking. Yet they stayed.
A man disguised himself as Mount Fuji and wrapped himself in a Japanese flag. Others lifted their cellphones to take videos and photos of the climbers, who were just spots in the distance as they climbed the various walls.
By the end of the night, those fans might have recognized Garnbret. She was the climber who finished at the top.