INTERVIEW: Tomoko Ogawa, first woman to boulder 8B+

Tomoko Ogawa on Catharsis, 8B+, Shiobara, Japan © NAGAO
Tomoko Ogawa on Catharsis, 8B+, Shiobara, Japan

A few days ago, Tomoko Ogawa became the first woman to climb a confirmed 8B+ boulder problem by repeating Dai Koyamada's Catharsis at Shiobara in Japan. The problem had previously only been repeated by a, to me, unknown Japanese climber and Daniel Woods who confirmed the grade.

I decided to make an interview with Tomoko, and with some help from Ikuko Serata, who is currently in Switzerland with Dai Koyamada (definitely more news to come there) it worked out, and here it is:

I understand you have been trying this problem for three years. How many days do you think you have had on it? How many tries?
I have spent about 30 or 40 days during these three years.
A few hundred attempts.

In the video, you look like you are in control the whole time. What made it possible to finally do it?
I thought I need more finger strength and reach. I did "finger pull ups" for a long time that I had seen Daniel Woods do in a DVD. It is like hanging on a campus board with open hand and close it to crimp and open and close over and over while you are hanging.

And I started to straighten up my body. Actually I was hunched. I thought because of my backside muscles got too big since I started climbing, I wanted keep my chest and body open to extending my reach. But it took a year to get better.

Tomoko Ogawa on Catharsis, 8B+, Shiobara, Japan © NAGAO
Tomoko Ogawa on Catharsis, 8B+, Shiobara, Japan

Because the first section of this problem involves several pockets and the last section is dynamic. In short it's very steep and super fingery. The crux of this problem is the 5th move with right three finger pocket and left shallow pocket. I thought I need more finger strength and reach to get 5th.

Also I always failed at the crux because my feet peeled off the far and heinous footholds. To be able to keep my feet on I have done a lot of "core training" for years. I was trained by a professional foot ball player and it worked very well.

I can see that you have been climbing all over the world. What's your favorite bouldering area?
Rocklands, I love it!

What style do you prefer?
Roof climbing

Do you ever compete?
Yes, I took part in the World cup, but I was a loser in the World cup every time...

What are your plans for the future?
I just want to go to many aeras overseas. I also want to climb a slab project which is my weakness.

Thank you very much Tomoko!

Tomoko Ogawa is sponsored by: adidas and Mad Rock

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24 Oct, 2012
Really impressive! There was a good video not long ago with woods climbing here and it all looked fairly nails.
25 Oct, 2012
Can anyone explain the photo at the top of this article. It looks to me like she is above a puddle in a cave, but I wouldn't expect a puddle to give a good reflection like that. It also looks like the flash is further away from the camera than her, but her shadow makes it look like the flash is under her. It also looks like she is nowhere near the mats. Is it just a mash up of various shots?
25 Oct, 2012
Wow, that's properly inspirational! jk
25 Oct, 2012
I think the photo is legit. Its at night (or very dim) so with a still puddle, the reflection should be very clear, as there is not much other stray light around to compete with the reflection. I expect there are at least two off camera flashes, trying to light her well and bounce light off the roof onto her face to make sure she is recognisable. Only the strongest light source will give much shadow. She does look a bit like she isn't over the mats, but the video shows that too, maybe she's on an easier bit of the problem that doesn't need matting well. It could be that she's tiny and using big mats, which makes the perspective look odd. The reflection is right where it should be if she is just to this side of the mats. And what a great effort, well earned after 40 days effort over several years and specific training.