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This New Climbing Film, “The Wall—Climb for Gold,” Humanizes the World’s Best Comp Climbers

“The Wall—Climb for Gold” is a 90-minute film that follows four Olympic athletes, from qualification to their performance on the big stage. Like any good sports film, it is deeply emotional.

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The Wall—Climb for Gold (2022)

Directed by Nick Hardie.

A Premiere Digital and Windfall Films production.

***

There are tons of good things to say about “The Wall—Climb for Gold.” Like any good sports film, it is deeply emotional.

“The Wall—Climb for Gold” follows four athletes—Brooke Raboutou, Janja Garnbret, Miho Nonaka, and Shauna Coxsey—from Olympic qualification to their performance on the big stage. You get sneak peeks into each of their lives while they train and navigate expectations and goals. Then the pandemic hits, and things really heat up. The film explores not only what it means to be an elite Olympic athlete, but also the ebbs and flows of motivation and self-belief in the face of change. In moments, you’ll find yourself with sweating palms and on the verge of tears.

The 90-minute film starts with Janja Garnbret, from Slovenia, the greatest competition climber of all time. Since 2015, when she first competed on the adult international stage, Garnbret has accumulated 31 World Cup gold medals for Lead and Bouldering events, plus six World Championship titles and nine World Cup season titles. And, the film posits, an Olympic gold medal? Chances are good you already know the Olympic results, but the film is no less thrilling for the knowledge. Clips of young Janja doing flips on door frames, dancing, and even competing, are telling: you see a Janja that has always had a passion for movement and perfection. Plus, she was just dang cute. 

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The film is structured linearly, from just before Olympic qualification in Hachioji, Japan, 2019, to right after the Games. It switches from athlete to athlete, never staying in one place too long. Brief backstories of each athlete are provided, alongside footage from when they were young and interviews with parents. Those were my favorite moments: Watching baby Brooke take a survival class in water, or seeing a young Miho be absolutely devastated by a poor comp result.

“Of course, it was impossible to imagine how far I’d go,” says Nonaka of her attitude as a developing climber. “I only had this unfounded self-confidence that I would somehow be ok. That I would become strong.”

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The childhood clips are moments that had me wondering how their parents even had the foresight to film them, and, importantly, they tell you so much about what drives each athlete, and what it took for them to make it to where they are now. 

Coxsey’s story was particularly heartbreaking. Something happens—you’ll have to watch the film to find out. Throughout it all, you don’t see comp superstar Shauna Coxsey. You see a woman that’s tough as nails, both graceful and tenacious. (Photo: “The Wall—Climb for Gold” Collection)

Where the film comes up short is in the play-by-play comp moments. And I wasn’t a fan of the timeline. As someone that has followed (and covered) the Olympic-qualification process, I couldn’t help but be bored by all the steps I already knew had happened, and by all the comp footage I’d already seen. Still, the film’s structure is friendly to those less familiar with our sport, and those that hadn’t followed the qualification process as closely as I.

As you see more present-day scenes, you get some training montages. Overall, I’d say the film-makers left me hungry for more in that department, although I’m guessing the specifics of these athletes’s training protocols are team secrets. In any case, what you do see is inspiring. Raboutou does one-arms. Coxsey does some impressive weighted pull-ups. Garnbret moves through crazy boulders, and later, gets hung up on one that she “just can’t do.” Nonaka cranks out a dizzying cardio routine.

You see moments of joy. You see tears. Coxsey’s story was particularly heartbreaking. She’s recovering from a bout of injuries, then she makes a full comeback to qualify for the Olympics. Then she needs knee surgery, which may not give her enough time to train for the Olympics, but then there’s the delay due to the Pandemic. There’s a moment, here, where she’s struggling to stay motivated. The scene finds her on the floor, tucking in new carpet. She’s still in pain, and she finds out she’ll need a second knee surgery. Something happens—you’ll have to watch the film to find out. Throughout it all, you don’t see comp superstar Shauna Coxsey. You see a woman that’s tough as nails, both graceful and tenacious.

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Similarly, Nonaka reveals her internal struggles, feeling immense pressure to be the best and to not disappoint her country.

“Many people have been rooting for me. I want to prove myself worthy of that. I have a responsibility. I really do. Because I’ve been chosen, I have to do it,” she says. Later, she breaks down.

“I realized after the announcement was over. I realized now that I’m at my wits end” she says.

Nonaka reveals her internal struggles, feeling immense pressure to be the best and to not disappoint her country. (Photo: “The Wall—Climb for Gold” Collection)

Switching back to Garnbret, you get a taste of the enormity of the pressure she faces, being the Olympic favorite. “It’s like I’m climbing stupidly,” she says to her coach, Roman Krajnik during a practice. “Well… yeah,” he says. “What now?!” he barks when she freezes on the wall. “I can’t!” she says. “Quiet!” he says back. The back-and-forth is steeped in Garnbret’s self-doubt, and, if you don’t already know the results, you’ll wonder if she might crumple under the pressure. 

While I wasn’t a fan of all the comp scenes, I loved that, for the Games, the film shows each of the parents’s watch parties and reactions. Their commentary, their heartbreak, and their tears of joy are nothing short of heartwarming.

Raboutou’s post-Olympic reflections sum up the film: “To be an Olympian, you have to have a strong mind. … It’s so important to let yourself fail and to also let yourself dream, because you’re never going to get to those big heights if you’re not allowing yourself to fail along the way.”

Overall, “The Wall—Climb for Gold” showcases some of the best in our community, highlighting their physical abilities and mental toughness. It’s a strong representation of our sport, and the women that compose it. Speaking of which, it shines in the female-empowerment department, with so few climbing films being female-centric. 

O.K., enough recap. Go watch the film yourself! Find the film today, January 18, on Amazon Prime video, Apple TV, and Google Play.

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