HOW SLOVENIA BREEDS COMP CRUSHERS
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.