At just 14 years old, Ashima Shiraishi is the strongest female rock climber in the world. When Shiraishi did her first V14 boulder in 2014 (Golden Shadow in South Africa), she was only the second female to climb this grade. Now she’s done more V14s than any other woman, including three in that range in the last three months of 2015: Terre de Sienne at Hueco Tanks, Texas, Nuclear War in New York, and Phenomena in Japan. Two of these were second ascents, and all three were first female ascents.
Shiraishi also has done harder roped climbs than any woman active today, including possibly the first 5.15a by a female climber: Open Your Mind Direct, in Santa Linya, Spain, which originally was graded 5.14d but is considered harder with a broken hold. Shiraishi did that route in March, then still age 13, in just four days—she told Climbing it was her proudest moment in 2015. “To do this climb, [with] the process of falling at the same place repetitively, pushed me very far both physically and mentally,” she said. “When I finally sent it, the joy I felt was pure bliss.”
In competition, Shiraishi also dominated. She was the 2015 national champion in lead climbing in her age group and runner-up in bouldering, and at the Youth World Championships in Italy she was perfect: She topped out every problem in all three rounds of the bouldering comp and also flashed all four lead routes, taking a double gold.
During the school year, this ninth-grader, who says she likes arts and crafts and English classes most, juggles her schedule to climb five days a week, averaging three hours a session. “I believe that the best way to become a better climber is to just climb,” she said. “This is the route that I take.”
The young Japanese-American’s standout performances in 2015 makes her an early favorite at the Olympics in Tokyo if climbing is accepted as a medal sport; she would be 19 at the 2020 Games. “Since I was a child, my dream has been to compete in the Olympics!” she said. “If climbing is in the next one in Tokyo, I definitely want to compete.”
Ashima Shiraishi previously won a Golden Piton for Breakthrough Performance in 2012.