Published on: 07/13/2023
It’s rare for an athlete to dominate their peers at the highest levels from the first moment they enter the arena. In the sport of competitive rock climbing, Janja Garnbret has proven herself one of those few prodigies.
The Slovenian’s performance and results have some people already calling Garnbret the women’s GOAT (Greatest of All Time) in indoor sport climbing competition. And yet, she’s still just 24 years old!
Janja Garnbret was born in the small city of Slovenj Gradec, Slovenia on March 12, 1999. That’s where she scaled her first artificial wall in a local park at age 7. Impressed with her natural ability and determination, her belayer that day recommended that she join a climbing club at a nearby school.
In that humble facility, the 8-year-old Garnbret threw herself into climbing and training with an unusual passion. Even at that young age she had a tenacity and a will to succeed that outmatched her peers.
By the time Janja was 9 she was traveling 30 minutes away from home to train with a new coach at better facilities. After a few years of work and steady improvement in her technique, her dedication started paying off and she was eventually invited to train with the Slovenian Youth National Team.
Garnbret joined the Slovenian Youth National team at 14 and quickly started rising in the ranks. In fact, she won the World Youth Championships in Lead Climbing in 2014, 2015, and 2016, while also winning the Bouldering gold in the latter two years.
She matched those results by winning the European Youth Championships in lead and bouldering categories during an undefeated 3-year run from 2013 to 2015.
In Garnbret’s first major competition, the European Youth Championships in 2013, she won gold in the bouldering event. Two years later, at the age of 16, she competed for the first time in the IFSC Climbing World Cup as an adult, competing in three lead climbing events and earning two silver medals and one bronze.
To say that Janja Garnbret has dominated IFSC Climbing World Cup (1) lead climbing events since then could be considered something of an understatement. Absolute and complete control might be a better description of her results since winning her first senior World Cup championship and World Championship in 2016.
That year, in her first full season on the circuit, she scored 5 gold medals in lead climbing on the way to her first World Cup championship. In 2017, she won 7 golds in lead climbing, once again winning the Lead championship. She also entered more bouldering events that year, winning three gold medals and finishing 2nd overall behind Shauna Coxsey of Great Britain.
Garnbret has continued her winning ways on the World Cup ever since, winning the overall title in the Lead Climbing discipline again in 2018, 2021, and 2022 (only one climbing World Cup event was held in 2020, and no championships were awarded).
In 2019, while Janja came in second for the year in her lead climbing specialty, she won gold at all six bouldering events on her way to winning the overall championship. She’s the first athlete to sweep every event in a single climbing category over the course of a season. Even more amazing that she achieved this in her supposedly second-best discipline.
Overall, Garnbret has won 40 World Cup gold medals and scored 60 podium places (15 silver medal finishes, 5 bronze). In her entire World Cup climbing career, she’s only missed the podium 7 times when competing in bouldering or sport climbing lead events.
The last time she finished outside of the podium in a World Cup lead or bouldering event was in 2019. She came in second place overall that year to the Korean champion, Seo Chae-hyun. If that seems like a down year, that was also the year Garnbret qualified for the 2020 Olympics and won World Championships in Lead, Bouldering, and Combined disciplines. Not to mention the World Cup championship in Bouldering.
2020 Tokyo Olympic Games
In order to reach her goal of qualifying for the first ever Olympic rock climbing event, Garnbret began training and competing in the speed climbing discipline starting in 2018. While her highest World Cup placement in Speed so far has been 13th, her focus and determination to learn this new style paid off in a big way.
Delayed until 2021 thanks to COVID, rock climbers around the world waited impatiently to see who would be crowned world champion at the first ever Olympic rock climbing event in Tokyo.
Janja Garnbret was one of the first competitors to qualify, which she did by winning the 2019 World Championships in Hachioji, Japan. The Olympic organizers decided that rock climbing would only be allotted one medal event per gender, so the format required all climbers to compete in lead, bouldering, and speed climbing disciplines for a single, combined score.
Many sport climbers who specialize in lead or bouldering were unhappy with the requirement to compete in speed climbing, since the techniques and training are very different from their norm. Janja Garnbret, like a true champion, embraced the challenge.
Janja’s first attempts at speed climbing in Tokyo were a near disaster, as she lost her first two rounds before finally winning a heat in the finals. Fortunately, she was the only woman to top two of the final three boulders, and she reached the highest point of any climber on the final lead climbing route, winning both of those categories on her way to the first women’s gold medal in Olympic rock climbing history.
You can see all the details of Garnbret’s journey, along with three other Olympic climbers, from training to the exciting competition itself in the film The Wall: Climb for Gold (2).
Janja is busy at the moment competing in the 2023 IFSC Climbing World Cup season. After missing the first several events due to a broken toe, she won gold medals in her first two rounds in Innsbruck. Although she skipped the series in Chamonix in July, she’s still the favorite to win an unprecedented 6th World Cup title in Lead climbing.
She’s also ramping up her training for the Paris Olympics in 2024, where the rock climbing event has changed its format. Now, speed climbing has been separated into its own medal category, and lead and bouldering will be combined into one medal event. We’ll see if this gives Janja Garnbret an even bigger advantage, as she can place her complete focus on preparing for both bouldering and lead climbing.
The Best Climber of Her Generation?
When it comes to climbing style, Garnbret tends toward a dynamic, aggressive approach. While some competition climbers are methodical and slow moving, Janja analyzes her beta quickly and never hesitates when it comes to dynos and other committing moves.
Garnbret has acknowledged her reverence and study of the great Slovenian competition climbers from the previous generations, notably Martina Cufar, Maja Vidmar, and Mina Markovič. These climbers mostly employed a more static climbing style, which influenced Garnbret’s early technique.
However, she consciously strayed from this style as she matured and the nature of competition route setting evolved into its current state. Nowadays, dynamic movement on big volumes, with gymnastic body positions, are required to top out modern comp-style boulder problems and sport climbing routes.
Garnbret proved her ability to adapt to the newer style of competition climbing as she focused more on bouldering World Cup events, eventually winning a championship in this discipline and always a threat to win.
Considering her overwhelming achievements and sheer number of victories in climbing World Championships, World Cups, and the first-ever Olympic championship, we feel confident anointing Janja Garnbret as the best competitive lead climber of any generation!
Janja Garnbret has almost exclusively spent her professional climbing life training and working toward becoming the best indoor climber possible. However, she also loves exploring and climbing outdoors whenever possible.
She began climbing hard routes outside while training with the Slovenian youth team, sending up to 5.14c (8c+) at age 16 at a local sport crag. Garnbret sent her hardest route outdoors two years later, with a redpoint tick of Selecció Natural (5.14d – 9a)
While taking a break after the Olympics in 2021, she visited Spain and onsighted two 5.14b (8c) routes at Oliana, Fish Eye and American Hustle. During this trip she also spent some time working on one of the world’s hardest sport climbs, La Dura Dura (5.15c – 9b+), which has only seen ascents by Adam Ondra and Chris Sharma.
Gear Used by Janja Garnbret
Garnbret is sponsored by CAMP and Five Ten – Adidas. She wears Five Ten climbing shoes, Adidas sportswear, and CAMP harnesses and other gear when climbing indoors.
Janja currently competes in World Cup sport climbing events, and won her Olympic gold medal, wearing the women’s version Five Ten Hiangle rock climbing shoes. She’s also been seen wearing the Five Ten NIAD VCS.
Janja Garnbret is 24 years old and stands 5 feet, 5 inches tall (1.64 m).
Like most elite-level sports talents, Janja continually strives to improve and thinks of ways to get better results. She also seems to get a lot of joy and pleasure from the entire process, from training to the pressure of competitions.
Garnbret trains with her personal coach, Roman Krajnik, and lives in Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia. When she’s not climbing she just tries to take rest and relaxation as seriously as she takes climbing.
As she says on her personal website (3):
“I try not to worry about being successful, I try to focus on having fun.”
That approach has certainly led to great success for this amazing rock climbing phenom!
To see more about what Janja’s up to right now, check out her latest Instagram posts.
International Federation of Sport Climbing (retrieved on 07/12/2023)
The Wall: Climb for Gold (retrieved on 07/12/2023)
Janja Garnbret’s official website (retrieved on 07/12/2023)