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Tokyo 2020 Olympic Sport Climbing: Women's Final - Report

© Jon Glassberg/Louder Than Eleven

Following the high drama of Thursday's men's final, everyone was hoping for a less nerve-wracking and nail-biting affair, without the last-second reversals of fortune. But it is the Combined format after all - the last we'll see of its kind, most likely - and the women's final provided a great spectacle with tense moments, but less of the 'How the heck did that happen?' factor of the men's round. Even Mt Fuji attended, in the form of a man in costume...

Women's podium Tokyo 2020.  © Jon Glassberg/Louder Than Eleven
Women's podium Tokyo 2020.
© Jon Glassberg/Louder Than Eleven

On the whole, the final results remained relatively true to the qualification round — within the top four places, at least. Alexandra Miroslaw (POL) had been edging close to a World Record/new Olympic Record throughout qualification, and in her final run against fellow Speed specialist Anouck Jaubert (FRA) she broke Iuliia Kaplina's (ROC) 6.97 seconds convincingly by clocking a time of 6.84. Miho Nonaka (JPN) also started well with a 3rd place in Speed, despite carrying knee and wrist injuries. A fall by Brooke Raboutou (USA) meant she slid to 7th in the rankings with some ground to make up for ahead of her two strongest disciplines.

Janja Garnbret shook off her Speed nerves from qualification and bagged her best and most likely outcome: 5th place. In the press zone after the event, Garnbret commented: Garnbret: "I was very focused all the time, and for speed the best case scenario for me was to be fifth, and I was actually fifth. I was like okay, this is it - I can win this competition." The result put the 22-year-old at ease and it showed in the Boulder round: Garnbret achieved two Tops, while the rest of the field failed to make any Tops out of the three Boulders. B3 was a steep and burly with multiple toe-hooks and a dynamic finish that not even Garnbret could solve.

Garnbret dominating the Boulder round.  © Jon Glassberg/Louder Than Eleven
Garnbret dominating the Boulder round.
© Jon Glassberg/Louder Than Eleven

Brooke Raboutou came agonisingly close to topping B1 and B2, but rushed the last moves on both, resulting in a foot slip while matching the finish hold on B1, and a fall from the top as the buzzer sounded on B2. In a hard round, Brooke finished 2nd behind Garnbret despite not topping either problem, but her youthful exuberance and rushed movements were starting to become a trend in the 20-year-old's round. Miho Nonaka and Akiyo Noguchi stuck close together in 3rd and 4th place once again, demonstrating their closely-matched level and well-roundedness. Jaubert impressed by reaching the Zone on B1 in just two attempts, surpassing everyone but Garnbret on this first climb, but finishing in 6th place.

Brooke Raboutou slips on the final move of B1. A contender for Paris '24.  © Jon Glassberg/Louder Than Eleven
Brooke Raboutou slips on the final move of B1. A contender for Paris '24.
© Jon Glassberg/Louder Than Eleven

The numbers appeared straightforward heading into lead, but as ever in Combined, there were numerous possible outcomes depending on where people placed and - frustratingly - where they placed in relation to others, directly or indirectly. Janja looked set for Gold with 5 points, but she had to place ahead of Nonaka, who was close behind on 6 points and could pip Garnbret to gold with a first place. Raboutou looked on course to potentially take Silver or Bronze with a top-four finish in her strongest discipline.

Nonaka climbed to Silver.  © Jon Glassberg/Louder Than Eleven
Nonaka climbed to Silver.
© Jon Glassberg/Louder Than Eleven

Chaehyun Seo (KOR) had struggled to make up for the ground she lost in Speed and finished 7th in Boulder, but as the scores started to fill the board, it became apparent that she could take the Bronze with a 1st in Lead. Jessy Pilz (AUT) could take Bronze with a 2nd place. There was all to play for and a difficult route spat off some climbers early. Once again, Raboutou rushed a dynamic move to a pocket -  which required considerable accuracy - but misjudged and fell, almost certainly putting her out of the running for a medal. She'll surely be a contender in Paris 2024, though, with more experience under her belt. 

Noguchi put in a stellar fight on her final competition route.  © Jon Glassberg/Louder Than Eleven
Noguchi put in a stellar fight on her final competition route.
© Jon Glassberg/Louder Than Eleven

Noguchi reached high on the wall to 29+ in what was her final climb of her competition career, setting a new highpoint and putting herself in medal contention, depending on how Seo and Pilz scored. Garnbret pushed past Noguchi's score to 37+, clearly not 100% convinced that the win was in the bag unless she kept going to the very end, shaking out repeatedly as she reached her limit. Nonaka failed to make Noguchi's highpoint, but secured a Silver by surpassing Raboutou. As soon as Nonaka fell, Garnbret was confirmed as the winner and Nonaka as the silver medallist. All eyes were on Chaehyun Seo as she beat Jessy Pilz and neared Garnbret's score, but ultimately fell two moves below, granting Noguchi bronze ahead of Miroslaw due to her placing higher in 2/3 disciplines, despite both women achieving 64 points.

The podium trio celebrating after the result became clear  © Jon Glassberg / Louder Than 11
The podium trio celebrating after the result became clear
© Jon Glassberg / Louder Than 11

As it dawned on the three women that they'd become the sport's first female Olympic medallists, they burst into tears and embraced one another in an emotional moment that capped a career spanning nearly 20 years from junior to senior level for Noguchi. With four World Cup overall titles and six 2nd place finishes, a strong case could be made for Akiyo Noguchi being the greatest competition boulderer of all time, with 10 Lead medals to her name, too.

The Japanese Podium  © Natalie Berry
The Japanese Podium
© Natalie Berry

On Nippon TV tonight, Noguchi commented: "This was my retirement competition, and I'm very happy that we were able to fight together until the very end."

"Honestly speaking, I can't say that I was able to give a really good performance in this event, which was a bit disappointing, but even though I wasn't able to give my best performance, I kept my spirits up in the last lead event and never gave up until the end. I think it was the best that I could do this time."

Nonaka said: "I was able to get a medal this time, but I'm still not satisfied. I wasn't completely satisfied with my performance, so I'd like to give a convincing performance in Paris and win a gold medal."

Benjamin Hartmann, Japan team coach, spoke to me about Nonaka and Noguchi's successes: "It's amazing, just the perfect ending, especially for Akiyo," he said. "After such a long career of always being at the top. And in her last competition to get a medal at the Olympics, it's just unbelievable."

Janja Garnbret was the star of the show winning the bouldering and the lead.  © Jon Glassberg / Louder Than 11
Janja Garnbret was the star of the show winning the bouldering and the lead.
© Jon Glassberg / Louder Than 11

Janja Garnbret sealed her reputation as the Greatest climbing competitor Of All Time (the GOAT), adding Olympic Champion to her resume which already features back to back World Championship Golds, eight overall World Cup titles, a clean sweep of the 2019 Boulder season - the only person to ever do so - and a triple World Championship win in the same year. To overcome the weight of expectation from others and herself and win in such a convincing manner - by dominating two out of three events - was an exceptional achievement by Garnbret, but at the same time expected.

Following the competition, Garnbret told the press: "I'm so happy that I can't even describe it, it's like a dream come true. I wrote on Instagram probably six or more years ago 'See you in Tokyo!', so it's a dream come true."

She told Olympics.com in an Instagram live chat today: "It was sad without spectators, but the climbing community is amazing and my teammates made a great atmosphere. I kept saying 'You should enjoy this!' I will never forget this experience of being the first Olympic gold medallist."

'When I was a little kid I wanted to climb Boulders like Akiyo. She's been at the top for so long, so I was so happy she got Bronze."

It was a perfect ending to four historic days of Sport Climbing here in Tokyo. It's time to head home now, but here's to Paris 2024, which is now only three years away...

More comments and analysis to follow, after some time to let it all sink in.

Read through our tweet update pages which were live during each day of the competition with quotes and insight from on the ground in Tokyo.


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