At the beginning of September, after three years without competing internationally, the 19-year-old Japanese Ai Mori won the two difficulty World Cup events in which she participated. She comes to compete with Slovenian Janja Garnbret, who was undefeated so far this season.
With two wins in two rounds, Ai Mori managed to heal his return to competition. Although he has not participated in a World Cup event since the end of 2019, the Japanese climbing prodigy, who just turned 19, won both of the difficulty stages he participated in. The first, at the beginning of September, in Koper, Slovenia. The second, the following week, in Edinburgh (Scotland), where he subjugated without making mistakes, neither in the series, nor in the half, nor in the final. Twice, Ai Mori has beaten them all, and in particular Janja Garnbret, true queen of the discipline, relegated to second place on each occasion.
And if this comeback is making so much noise it’s because for the last few years, Janja Garnbret has dominated her sport unchallenged. Olympic champion in Tokyo, she became European Champion for the third time in Munich in August in the combined format (bouldering and difficulty, the format of the 2024 Paris Olympics). The Slovenian also has six world championship titles, 9 World Cup wins overall and 36 World Cup wins, a record. And all with only 23 years. With four wins in the first four stages of the season, he could even aim for an unprecedented full box during a World Cup season.
But it was without counting, therefore, with this incredible comeback by Ai Mori. Coinciding with the calendar, it is also on Slovenian soil that the Japanese achieved the first victory in the World Cup of her career in her first race of the year. With two tests remaining (one in difficulty, the other in combined) of the climbing season, Janja Garnbret remains well ahead of the general classification of the World Cup in difficulty and will conquer a new crown in the discipline. But in just two rounds, Ai Mori is already in 8th place overall in the specialty.
Two years off to study
The Japanese only had one full season, in 2019, before stepping away from the world tour to focus on her studies. Practicing the discipline since the age of 8, Ai Mori quickly made a name for himself in the climbing world. In 2017, at age 14, she lined up for the first time in a Junior World Cup event. Two years later she reached the elite and got the first brand performances from her.
During the 2019 season he was on the podium three times, winning two bronze medals in difficulty and one in bouldering. She even finished sixth overall in the specialty at the end of the season. To end the year, she participated in an Olympic qualifying event in Toulouse for the Tokyo Olympics, in which she finished in fifth place. A sufficient result to be eligible to participate in the Games. But since the places available for Japanese athletes are already allocated, she will never see this Olympiad at home.
A 2023 calendar based on the Olympic rankings
Since then, Ai Mori has only made rare appearances in national competitions. Like during the Japan Bouldering Cup, at the beginning of 2021, in bouldering, where the Japanese finished… first. On the walls, she appears ethereal and 154 centimeters of her seem to move with disconcerting ease. Will she be able to maintain this exceptional level of performance at the end of the season? Response element on Monday, with the last difficulty round of the season, in Jakarta, Indonesia.