Published on: 08/21/2023
The day is August 6, 2023. It’s the IFSC World Championships Women’s Lead Finals, and the crowd is ecstatic on this hot summer night in Bern. Janja Garnbret savors the moment; she’s the first competitor to top the route with only 5 seconds left on the clock. She’s celebrating her great performance with the public, but there’s one last climber to go: Ai Mori.
The Japanese climber walks to the stage and immediately prepares for the climb by rehearsing the moves on the ground without even a look at the public. She’s entirely focused on getting gold. If she feels the pressure, her face doesn’t let anything show as she starts climbing with a steady and determined rhythm.
The rest is a masterclass of absolute control and precision. Even her dynos (dynamic movements akin to jumps) pack just the right amount of momentum for an effortless swing. She hooks her feet and drops her knees with incredible ease and flexibility, assessing each holds as she progresses. Precision vs. power is what’s playing here. Not that Janja is not precise, but Ai Mori evolves in another realm when it comes to carefully placing her body on the wall for optimal economy.
There are 34 seconds left, and she’s one move away from the gold medal. She chalks up and lunges at the last hold. She grips it and clips the last anchor. The crowd erupts in cheers.
Ai Mori just won the Women’s Lead Finals.
With this victory, the Japanese prodigy confirmed her status as one of the most impressive climbers of her generation. Let’s look at her accomplishments so far and what’s ahead for Ai Mori.
Ai Mori was born on September 17, 2003, in the Ibaraki Prefecture in Japan. She started climbing when she was seven and quickly became passionate about the sport.
In an interview to Sumitomo Corp (1), Ai Mori confided:
I wasn’t good at sports, but I hated to lose, so I challenged myself to always give it my all at sports day, regardless of my ranking. I liked to climb trees, so my dad started to take me to a climbing gym because climbing high was dangerous, which started me on my path to today.
In 2016, Ai Mori became the youngest Japanese athlete to win the Lead Japan Cup at age 12. She remained Japan’s lead champion in 2018, 2019, 2021, and 2022. She also left her mark on the Japanese national bouldering scene by scoring the silver medal at the Boulder Japan Cup in 2018 and winning gold in 2021.
Ai Mori started to compete on the International Sport Climbing Federation scene in 2019 and won three bronze medals at the World Cups: two in lead and one in bouldering.
This was already an incredible debut for the fifteen-year-old and a major upset for many observers, puzzled by the prowess of the young Japanese climber. However, Ai Mori doubled down by placing third at the IFSC Climbing World Championships in the women’s lead category, sweeping the record as the youngest Japanese medalist at the ISFC World Championships from her friend and mentor Akiyo Noguchi.
Later the same year, Ai Mori ranked fifth at the Olympic qualifiers in Toulouse, France. The result was enough to award her a ticket for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, but, unfortunately, the Japanese climbing national team was already complete.
Continued Comp Success
After Toulouse, Ai Mori followed the advice of Akiyo Noguchi and took a two-year break from competitive climbing before returning to the international scene.
Noguchi, who’s now retired, told her then:
If you want to climb, climb, but you don’t need to force yourself.
Ai Mori used this time to rekindle her passion for climbing. She commented:
During my break, my mental and physical health improved, and I once again found myself wanting more stimulation. I decided to focus on and enjoy competing, and I have since been able to achieve good results. It’s important to practice hard, but I also came to realize the importance in enjoying the sport itself and I now like competing.
The break seems to have had a tremendous impact on Ai Mori’s performance. She returned to competition in September 2022 for the lead World Cup in Koper, Slovenia, and seized the gold medal, defeating Janja Garnbret on her home turf, who had won all four lead World Cups of the year so far.
The victory earned Mori many fans, impressed with her exceptional abilities despite her shorter height—she’s 154 cm/5 ft 1-tall—especially her creativity, body control, and iron grip that allow her to find unique betas when she doesn’t have the reach.
Ai Mori continued her winning streak that year by winning two World Cup events: lead in Edinburg, Scotland, and combined boulder and lead in Morioka, Japan.
As depicted in the introduction, Ai Mori made an incredible performance by becoming the world champion in lead at the 2023 IFSC Climbing World Championships. She’s the first Japanese climber to win the women’s lead World Championship (Akiyo Noguchi placed third in 2005 in Munich).
However, the best part of the competition in Bern, Switzerland, may have been the bouldering and lead combined event. Mori won a third-place finish, synonym of qualification for the 2024 Paris Olympics. So we’ll have the pleasure of witnessing the Japanese climber on the world’s greatest competition climbing stage!
Outdoor Climbing and Bouldering
While Ai Mori has been focusing on indoor comp climbing, she’s also an accomplished outdoor climber. She has a YouTube channel, “Feel Gravity, Think Nature,” (2) where she shares her outdoor climbs on sport routes and boulder problems.
Most notably, she sent Catharsis (Shiobara, Japan), the first confirmed V14/8B+ in history to be climbed by a woman (Tomoko Ogawa in 2012) (3). Ai Mori climbed the boulder in just one day in 2021 (see video below).
At just 19, Ai Mori shows so much promise that we can expect many great things from her outdoor projects in the years to come, especially if she fulfills all her competition dreams and decides to shift her focus to rock climbing in nature (she’s mentioned that she doesn’t want to compete for more than 10 years).
Ai Mori primarily wears the La Sportiva Futura shoes in competition. She’s been sponsored by Mammut for apparel and gear since 2015.
Ai Mori turns 20 this year, and aside from climbing, she’s a student at the University of Tsukuba. On her days off, she likes to clear her head by listening to music, cooking, and cleaning the house. She lives with her parents in Japan and explained she wants to become independent and grow as an athlete and a person.
Ai Mori Special Interview
Sumitomo Corp, May 2023
Ai Mori’s YouTube Channel
First Woman to Boulder V14
Climbing Magazine (Oct 2012)
Futagoyama (retrieved on 08/21/2023)
Shiobara Boulder (retrieved on 08/21/2023)