As a child who grew up in Slovenia, she regularly raced up trees or climbed the door frames of her house, but she felt most comfortable on the climbing wall and where her talent finally came to light.
She finished last in her category in her first competition as a kid, but says she loved the sport too much to care at the time.
“People keep asking me if I’ve ever compared myself to other kids, actually I wasn’t,” Garnbret, who recently climbed the tallest chimney in Europe, told CNN Sport.
“I just enjoyed myself on the wall and just climbed, tried to push my limits. I never thought that I was better than everyone else. I just enjoyed climbing.”
After a few years of practice and hard work, Garnbret quickly became one of the best climbers in her country.
Her world-class skills then became evident when she competed in and won international competitions on a regular basis.
She has won several World Cup events and has her eyes firmly on the postponed games in Tokyo, which will finally take place this summer and where sport climbing will make its Olympic debut.
“I learned a lot about myself”
The 22-year-old says the initial postponement gave her more time to work on her weaknesses, but admitted the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic was tough to deal with.
She was fortunate to have a climbing wall at home that she kept in good shape during the lockdown on her land, but it was tested in ways that she did not expect.
“I was able to train, but it was difficult for me because I was always the motivated person. I always had small goals and of course big goals and I never had fluctuations in motivation, ”she says.
“I was always motivated, but now it happened to me that some days I was motivated to train, some days not because all competitions were postponed. I didn’t know it like that myself.
“It was just something different and I learned a lot about myself, but I got used to the situation pretty quickly.”
Organizers continue to insist that the Games take place this year, but doubts remain that the pandemic could once again ruin plans.
Garnbret is trying to stay positive and is optimistic that she will make her Olympic debut in 2021, although the situation seems to change every week.
“I think Covid was of course just something new for us last year and we didn’t know what to expect, how to deal with it,” she adds.
“But we came into this year with all safety precautions and everything prepared. It’s still not one hundred percent, I fully understand that, but I will do my best and continue to prepare for the Olympics.”
Driving four hours a day
In bouldering, as many fixed routes as possible on a four-meter-high wall are covered in four minutes without safety ropes. In lead climbing, the athletes have to climb as high as possible in six minutes on a 15-meter plus wall with safety ropes without reclimbs. In speed climbing, two climbers simultaneously climb a parallel route on a 15 meter high wall at 95 degrees – sometimes in less than 8 seconds. Combined results determine the medal winners.
Garnbret says speed climbing is by far her weakest discipline, but she has a thorough training plan to improve every aspect of her performance.
She trains six days a week, dividing her time between the gym, speed climbing, and her usual wall training. Due to the lack of central facilities in Slovenia, Garnbret often drives up to four hours a day to attend all of their meetings.
It’s a regime that requires determination, passion, and a tireless work ethic, but winning a gold medal would be worth it.
“I definitely know any girl will use that extra year to her advantage,” she says. “I know every girl has her eyes on the gold.”
“I can’t say I’ll win gold because I know everyone is 100% prepared for it.
“I will definitely keep training and prepare as well as I can when the time comes and then we’ll see what happens. But I’m definitely looking forward to it.”
Promote healthy climbing
While other athletes at this year’s Olympics are backed by wealthy sponsors and a team of sports scientists, Garnbret knows that climbing isn’t quite at this level.
The Slovenian hopes that the opportunity to compete in front of a global audience will help change that.
“I think climbing will be really beneficial because climbing is still a young sport. It’s super young, ”she says.
“So it’s definitely a huge playground for everyone, for sponsors, for some non-endemic sponsors that are still coming into our sport. This is definitely something big.”
Because of her success, Garnbret is already a role model for young climbers around the world and she hopes that she can provide better facilities in her own country.
She also wants to bolster a healthy image of the sport, which she believes is more important than anything else.
Garnbret says the demands of climbing have resulted in teens, especially girls, trying to get lighter. This, she says, has sometimes caused people to develop eating disorders in order to get better results.
With her platform, she now wants to show the next generation of climbers that a healthy lifestyle can be successful.
“I just want to lead by example that you don’t have to lose extra weight to be successful,” she says.
“I definitely feel responsible for our sport. I just want to portray climbing as a fun sport, that it’s always fun, you just have to climb up and have fun.”
She continues: “I remember falling in love […] The first time I climbed because it felt so weightless and it was just me and the wall. I remember that I was the only kid who stayed on the wall and didn’t want to get off. “