Thu, Jun 07, 2018 - Page 16 News List

Bet the farm on it: Japan’s Noguchi eyes Olympic climbing gold


Japanese Olympic medal hopeful Akiyo Noguchi trains on a climbing wall in Tokyo on May 20.

Photo: AFP

Japan’s Akiyo Noguchi began climbing as a tearaway tot clambering onto the backs of cows for kicks on the family farm — now she is targeting Olympic gold.

The 29-year-old put down an early marker for the 2020 Tokyo Games, when sport climbing makes its Olympic debut, by capturing her third straight World Cup bouldering title last weekend.

However, it could all have been so different for the world No. 1, whose decision to quit her university studies and become a professional climber provoked an angry reaction from her mother.

“It was 10 years ago and climbing wasn’t in the Olympics, it was still a minor sport,” Noguchi told reporters in an interview. “When I told my parents I was dropping out of college to turn pro, they were extremely worried — and my mum was dead against it.”

“But my dad has supported my climbing since I was a child and built a wall for me in the corner of the farm,” added the adrenalin junkie, who has 21 World Cup bouldering titles to her name.

Noguchi admits that she was a handful for her parents with her tomboy antics growing up in Ibaraki prefecture, northeast of Tokyo.

“My dad was a farmer and we grew up surrounded by animals,” she said. “I loved climbing on the cows, climbing up trees, climbing onto the roof of the cow shed to play as a child.”

The Olympic format will combine three types of climbing techniques: speed, lead and bouldering, with the highest cumulative score deciding the winner.

Speed emphasizes a climber’s pace, while lead climbing involves the athlete clipping into hooks along the face of the wall with the help of a teammate belaying below.

Bouldering sees athletes clamber up smaller rocks and faces without a rope.

Noguchi is looking to improve her lead and speed climbing techniques, beginning in September at the world championships in Innsbruck, which are to feature all three disciplines.

However, she has few rivals in bouldering, where climbers have five minutes to scale as many fixed routes as possible without having seen the wall in advance.

“It’s a home Olympics, so I imagine I’ll feel pressure, but I’m sure I’ll feel the support of everyone in Japan and I think it will work in my favor,” she said. “I’ll be looking to win the gold medal of course.”

Japan could scoop multiple medals at the Olympics as the nation boasts four of the world’s top 10 in men’s bouldering, led by former combined world champions Tomoa Narasaki and Rei Sugimoto.

Many in the crowd last weekend knew little about sport climbing, but Noguchi could well change that at the Tokyo Olympics.

“I feel so lucky to have an Olympics taking place in Tokyo and for sport climbing to be included for the first time while I’m still competing,” she said. “You don’t get many chances like that in life so I want to make it count.”

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