The Rise of Miho Nonaka

Innsbruck Comp

Nonaka making moves during the Innsbruck, Austria leg of the 2014 IFSC World Cup.

This month, as you know from last week, we are crushing hard on all-around-badass, and winner of this year’s Bouldering World Cup, Akiyo Noguchi. But it was brought to our attention that there was another untold story from this year’s World Cup, a story so remarkable that we would be remiss not to tell it here. Today, guest contributor John Burgman brings us the story of 17-year-old dark horse Miho Nonaka.

If the 2014 IFSC Bouldering World Cup season taught us anything, it was that Japan’s Akiyo Noguchi has firmly cemented herself among the greatest competitive boulderers of our time. Aside from her physical mastery, Noguchi climbs with a degree of fluidity—a sort of natural technical polish—that harkens back to bouldering pioneer John Gill’s interest in style in a successful send. Noguchi deserves all of the attention and accolades that she is currently receiving, including headlines in just about every major world climbing news publication. But amid the buzz over Noguchi’s World Cup season, something is slipping under the radar: the remarkable effort of Noguchi’s teammate, Miho Nonaka.

Podium Laval

Podium finish in Laval, France from left to right: Miho Nonaka, Akiyo Noguchi, and Juliane Wurm.

Nonaka took second place in the final World Cup bouldering event in Laval, France, in June, but was actually in first place going into the final bouldering problem there, according to a tweet by the IFSC. (For readers unfamiliar with the competition architecture of the World Cup finals, each athlete climbs four problems and is scored according to the number of attempts and the number of successful tops.)

Nonaka is only 17 years old. She is a year removed from her rookie season on the international scene—during which she participated in lead climbing. Last year saw her place mostly near the bottom of the pack at events, and in fact, her overall world ranking in 2013 was a decidedly non-threatening 42nd.

Haiyang Comp

Nonaka in the Haiyang, China World Cup comp.

To put Nonaka’s dramatic improvement this year into context, consider this: one year ago, at the IFSC World Cup lead climbing event in Briançon, France, she placed 31st. Compare that to now, just a year later, she placed second in Laval. In doing so, Nonaka has asserted herself into conversations filled with names like Noguchi, of course, as well as Juliane Wurm, Shauna Coxsey, and Anna Stöhr, who placed third, fifth, and sixth respectively at the event, and are widely considered several of the best boulderers of the decade.

From a performance standpoint, it’s clear that Nonaka is improving significantly not only with each season, but also with each event on the seasonal circuit. There are those who will roll their eyes at the “comp scene,” and scoff at world rankings, but make no mistake that Nonaka has the potential to be an integral part of where bouldering, as a craft and as a growing industry, goes in the future. To be nudging up against the elites at such a young age is impressive, and to do so in a year’s time is even more remarkable. Akiyo Noguchi is undoubtedly the present—in the moment both in her natural movement on the wall and in her domination on the podiums. But Nonaka, if she can continue such a rapid progression in her performances, just might be the future. Keep watching—only time will tell.

Many thanks to John Burgman for bringing us this awesome piece, and introducing us to a new Girl Crush!

Climb On!

-Missy

Photo Credit: IFSC /Heiko Wilhelm

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