By Sam Nussey and Rozanna Latiff
TOKYO (Reuters) -Slovenian medal favourite Janja Garnbret advanced to the women's Olympic climbing final in first place, as Britain's Shauna Coxsey bade farewell to professional climbing after being eliminated in Wednesday's qualifier.
In Friday's final, eight women will contend for a single gold medal in three events - speed, a vertical sprint; bouldering, which tests problem-solving skills; and lead, a technical climb against the clock.
Garnbret, widely seen as the top contender for gold https://www.reuters.com/article/us-olympics-2020-clb-janja-idCAKBN2F2139, was 14th in the speed opener, her weakest discipline, but crushed her rivals in the bouldering contest before coming in fourth in the lead section to head the overall standings.
The 22-year-old admitted to feeling nervous in her first Games appearance, but began to relax more as the competition went on.
"In the combined format, you have to do your best and that's it, and then see what happens because you can’t predict anything," she told reporters.
The youngest contender, 17-year-old South Korean Seo Chaehyun, came in second, surpassing the rest of the field to grip the 40th hold during the lead event, by far the highest climb of the night.
Her performance comes after U.S. teen Colin Duffy - just a month Seo's junior - came in third in the men's qualifier on Tuesday, in a strong display of up-and-coming talent in the sport.
Japanese medal hopes Miho Nonaka and Akiyo Noguchi put on solid performances to finish third and fourth respectively, with the latter particularly impressive in the bouldering contest.
Polish speed specialist Aleksandra Miroslaw, who came within a hair's breadth of matching the world record of 6.96 seconds in the opener, struggled during bouldering and placed second-to-last in lead, to finish seventh overall.
Britain's Coxsey placed 10th, bowing out of the Games and into retirement after more than a decade in competitive climbing.
The two-time bouldering World Cup champion, who has struggled with injuries in recent years, said she had no regrets about her Olympics appearance.
"Despite everything, all the circumstances and getting here and you know, like I'm not in the shape that I wanted to be, I kind of did a lot better than I thought I would to be honest. I'm happy," the 28-year-old said.
The start of women's competition followed a roller-coaster day for France's Mawem brothers in the men's event: the pair secured places in the final before the elder sibling, Bassa, was forced to drop out due to injury.
(Reporting by Sam Nussey; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell, Hugh Lawson and Ed Osmond)