Sport climbing star recovers from a broken big toe to fight for another gold at Paris Olympics

It wasn’t going to be a toe injury that would keep one of the world’s biggest stars in sport climbing from getting to the Paris Olympics.

Defending champion Janja Garnbret kept practicing on one leg after her big toe “just broke” during a climb last year, grinding and training any way she could to get back in shape.

The eight-time world champion was able to recover from the rare injury and will be competing for a medal again in Paris.

No other athlete has won as many international climbing titles as Garnbret, who attracts just as many headlines for her dominance in the sport as she does for being an advocate for eradicating eating disorders from sport climbing.

“Everything is going by the plan so far,” Garnbret told The Associated Press. “I’m not injured this year or anything like that. So it’s been good. It’s been going well. I’m really happy with my form and shape and how everything is evolving.”

Garnbret hurt her foot during a routine climb in February 2023, when her left big toe suddenly broke. Doctors struggled to find out what was wrong at first, raising concerns about her future.

“It was not easy. It was my first serious injury in my career,” the Slovenian climber said. “I didn’t know how to deal with it because I hadn’t experienced anything like this before. I had a lot of doubts and negative thoughts. I didn’t even know if I would get back to the same level I was before. It was not easy, but I could still train and climb, I still had the right foot and both hands, so I was climbing with one foot.”

Garnbret had to adjust her training routine to stay in shape and keep her foot strong.

“I never stopped training,” she said. “I just couldn’t do some things I would normally do, like slab climbing or like climbing longer routes. I couldn’t do that, but anything else I could do. Then I saw that I was getting stronger, so it didn’t bother me too much.”

Garnbret said she worked so much on her injured left foot that it became stronger than the right one. She said she got tired more easily after the injury but hasn’t felt any pain, and she is confident that she will be able to peak in Paris. She was able to start her Olympic preparations in November as originally planned.

Her results since returning from the injury have been promising, with a second place in boulder in the World Cup in Prague last June in her first competition since fracturing the toe. She won both the boulder and lead events at the World Cup in Innsbruck later that same month, and earned two gold medals at the world championships in Bern in August — in boulder and combined — as well as a silver in lead. She also won the home World Cup in Koper, Slovenia.

Veteran world champion Petra Klingler said Garnbret has been “pushing the bar for the whole sport to another level.”

“Mentally, she’s really, really strong,” the Swiss climber said. “But also, she’s a hard worker. I guess talent and being a hard worker, is a good combination. But I think also next to that, just like the team she built up over the years is what helps her a lot. So I think there are many, many things about her which are just exceptional and come together perfectly for being an amazing athlete.”

This season Garnbret won both World Cup events she participated, both in China, in lead and boulder.

“I feel confident,” said the 25-year-old Garnbret, who has been outspoken about eating disorders in the sport and called for officials to “not look away” from the problem.

In 2021, Garnbret made history along with then-boyfriend Domen Skofic by climbing the highest chimney in Europe, which is in Slovenia, a feat that took more than seven hours.

In 2019, Garnbret also made headlines by becoming the first climber to win all six boulder World Cup events, and she had a winning streak that ended in 2021 after nine consecutive wins.

Her career highlight came in Tokyo, when she triumphed in the Olympic debut for sport climbing.

All that matters now is whether she will be able to repeat as the gold medal winner in Paris to remain as the sports’ only female Olympic champion.


AP Summer Olympics:

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