Kyra Condie could see trouble coming from 25 feet away.
The Team USA climber who lives in Salt Lake City stepped out into the Aomi Urban Sports Park in Tokyo on Wednesday morning and craned her neck to preview the route up the 50-foot lead wall. She was in 11th place and needed to do well in lead, the third of three disciplines that make up the sport climbing event at the Tokyo Olympics, to break into the top eight and reach Friday’s final.
But there, staring back at her, was an overhang topped with a mantle — an area where she would have to pull her feet up to meet her hands. The maneuver requires a climber to arch her back to stay close to the wall. Condie, who as a child with scoliosis underwent a 10-vertebrae fusion to correct a 72-degree curve in her spine, cannot arch her back.
“I was definitely worried during previews when I saw that move,” the 24-year-old said. “I knew I could do it, but I knew it was going to be hard. So that was definitely the move I was worried about, but I didn’t let it get to me. And I obviously did the move, but it was definitely hard for me.”
Instead, something Condie didn’t see ended up leading to her literal downfall. About 15 feet from the top, on the 22nd of more than 40 holds, she got stuck on a large, green, rounded piece of plastic called a “sloper.” She lost her grip on it while reaching for the next hold and fell off the wall, ending her turn. At the time, she had the second-best lead climb in qualifications and was in a position to make the final. But with 15 more women to go, she continued to slide down the standings. She ended up 11th overall, three spots out of the final.
After drifting to the ground on the auto-belay, Condie looked up at the wall and raised her hands in a gesture of frustration. It was not until then that she saw a hold nestled inside the sloper.
“If I’d have known there was a hold in it, I probably could have grabbed it,” she said. “But since I went through it like it was a different type of hold, I didn’t grab it. So that’s why I was bummed when I fell. I was like, ‘Oh, there’s a hold in it!’”
Condie moved to Utah in 2019, shortly after securing her spot in the first climbing competition in the Olympics, so she could train with USA Climbing. She will be in the stands for the finals to cheer on her three teammates: Murray native Nathaniel Coleman and Colin Duffy of Colorado in the men’s on Thursday morning and Brooke Raboutou of Colorado on Friday in the women’s. Both events begin with speed climbing at 2:30 a.m. MDT, followed by bouldering at 3:30 a.m. and lead at 6:10 a.m.
Raboutou found herself staring up at the field from 12th after the speed round, which isn’t her forte. But she excels at bouldering, the second discipline, and had spent much of the pandemic training with current World Cup leader and Salt Lake resident Natalia Grossman. Raboutou reaped the rewards from that when she became the first of just three women in the 20-climber field to top the fourth boulder. She ended up third in bouldering, then added an eighth-place performance in lead to qualify fifth overall.
“This team is pretty special. I’m so excited that our U.S. team has been able to step it up this last year,” Raboutou said. “I think we all feel each other’s energy and are thriving off of each other as a team, and that’s just making a big difference. We’re here to stay, so we’re excited.”.
Condie had little chance of winning her head-to-head speed races while going up against Aleksandra Miroslaw of Poland, who came within a hundredth of a second of the world record. Still, she blew past her personal best by almost four-tenths with a 8.08 time, good for seventh overall. She carried that momentum over to the bouldering, where she topped her first of four boulders and made it into the zone on the second. She stalled out on the second one, however. Despite regaining her composure to reach the zones in both Nos. 3 and 4, though, she tumbled down to 11th.
The heat in the low 90s, even at night in Japan, and the 60%-plus humidity didn’t help.
“You definitely have to stop more often than you’d think,” she said. “And a lot of it is you feel like you’re slipping, so you kind of have to ignore that feeling.”
That Condie found a way around her back limitations and to the Olympics is a testament to determination. Just 13, she’d already been climbing for two years and knew it wasn’t something she wanted to give up. So, when her first doctor said she wouldn’t be able to anymore, her family sought a second opinion. She underwent extremely painful surgery at age of 13 and came off the operating table two inches taller.
Since then, she’s found numerous workarounds for the common moves in the sport that remain inaccessible to her.
“It’s often really helpful to focus on what something can do for you, not what it can take away. She’s done that,” Meg Coyne, a USA Climbing national team manager and assistant coach, told the Associated Press. “It’s absolutely amazing that she can do what other people can do, often better.”
She willed her way through yet another obstacle Thursday with the overhang on the lead wall.
“There’s definitely some moves that are more difficult for me than others,” she said. “And it’s sometimes hard to tell when those moves are going to happen, but sometimes you see them from the ground and are like, ‘Uh oh, this is going to be hard.’ I’ve done a really good job trying to figure out with my coach how to get around those moves, but there are still some that cause me difficulty.”
Condie isn’t the kind to give up, though. So even though she was noncommittal about trying to be in the Olympics again when they return for the 2024 Games in Paris, it’s likely there’ll be a way she’ll work it out.
Men’s finals: Thursday, 2:30 a.m. MDT (speed), 3:30 a.m. (bouldering), 6:10 a.m. (lead)
Women’s finals: Friday, 2:30 a.m. MDT (speed), 3:30 a.m. (bouldering), 6:10 a.m. (lead)
Watch live: NBC Sports app