True Heart:

HOW SLOVE­NIA BREEDS COMP CRUSHERS

Climbing - - CLIMB SLOVENIA! -

Com­ing out last at the Vil­lars, Switzer­land, Lead Climb­ing World Cup in July 2018, the Slove­nian Janja Garn­bret moved flu­idly up the fi­nals route, lock­ing off a pocket on the side of a vol­ume. With the hold at her chest and her feet dan­gling, Garn­bret, the IFSC num­berone ranked climber, eas­ily reached the next vol­ume. She con­tin­ued, nab­bing the women’s high­point and win­ning the first stage of the 2018 Lead World Cup just months af­ter tak­ing the Boul­der­ing World Cup in Moscow— and show­ing what clim­bers from her lit­tle coun­try can do.

Garn­bret is far from the sole ta­lent in Slove­nian comp climb­ing. From 1997 un­til 2002, Martina Cu­far dom­i­nated the World Cup, podi­um­ing 16 times at lead events. Mina Markovic has won six World Cups, and younger tal­ents like Domen Skofic and Gre­gor Ve­zonik have been push­ing into the higher ranks as well. The Slovenes have long climbed hard, trained hard, and pro­duced on the world stage.

Part of this is ex­plained by Slove­nia’s small size, which fos­ters a tight- knit climb­ing scene. Luka Fonda, one of Slove­nia’s 20 climb­ing coaches and the owner of the Plus Climb­ing gym in Koper, notes, “We can do a lot to­gether.” The Slove­nian team, which con­sists of a half dozen men and a dozen women, meets weekly to boul­der at Plus Climb­ing or at the small gyms in Ljubl­jana, takes trips to Aus­tria— some six hours dis­tant— to train on routes, or trav­els to Ger­many ( far­ther yet) for the World- Cup style prob­lems in its gyms.

“Each one is push­ing the next one,” Fonda says of the Slove­nian team. The more ex­pe­ri­enced clim­bers help the newer gen­er­a­tions, pass­ing on knowl­edge as well as the ethos that climb­ing isn’t just recre­ation, but a sport to ex­cel at. “There’s not a lot of peo­ple who go into the gym and just have fun,” Fonda says. In Slove­nia, any promis­ing youth who climbs for over six months will typ­i­cally re­ceive coach­ing. Fur­ther, “We work hard with pas­sion,” says Fonda, not­ing that their mo­ti­va­tion comes less from a de­sire for no­to­ri­ety or fi­nan­cial sup­port but in­stead from the heart. While the govern­ment spon­sors three clim­bers— Markovic, Skofic, and Katja Kadic— with a small salary, most clim­bers work side jobs. “A mix of th­ese in­gre­di­ents makes our coun­try strong in climb­ing,” Fonda says.

Slove­nia’s heart may do it well in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics where strong clim­bers like Garn­bret could win gold. How­ever, at present, the Slovenes face the chal­lenges of hav­ing limited op­tions for train­ing. The coun­try’s sole speed wall opened just two months ago, and the best train­ing for route climb­ing is in Aus­tria. Fonda hopes that Slove­nia will build a more ad­e­quate fa­cil­ity for train­ing all three dis­ci­plines. Un­til then, the Slovenes have ex­ten­sive lime­stone crag­ging at ar­eas like Osp and Misja Pec, yield­ing 5.14+ and 5.15routes and the pos­si­bil­ity for more.

JANJA GARN­BRET CRUSH­ING AT THE ADI­DAS TICKET TO ROCK­STARS COMP IN KOPER.

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