The shelter-in-place restrictions brought on by COVID-19 left many people wanting to climb the walls of their homes, figuratively speaking. Kyra Condie actually climbed them, literally.
With gyms closed and no competitions in sight, the Olympics-bound sport climber got out a drill and some plywood and constructed a climbing wall on an overhanging wall in a room of her Salt Lake City home.
Murray native Nathaniel Coleman, who has also qualified to represent the United States in Tokyo, took a more outside-the-box approach to keeping in climbing shape during the lull. He went to court.
“Me and my roommates and some of the other climbers, we started putting together volleyball games,” Coleman said. “Just to kind of focus on something that’s nothing like climbing.”
After a year without elite-level international competition, U.S. climbers and many of their foreign counterparts can finally start measuring the efficacy of the often unusual training tactics they employed during the pandemic. And, with just two months to go to the Olympics, they’ll be finding out where they stand in terms of medal potential as well.
Two International Federation of Sport Climbing World Cup events will be held in Salt Lake City over the next two weeks: a Boulder World Cup this weekend and a Boulder and Speed World Cup on May 28-30. For the Americans, they’re just the second and third international competitions since everything shut down last March. The first was a Boulder World Cup in Switzerland last month.
Condie said it’s important to start seeing the competition, and get more big event experience, as the Tokyo Games near. Sport climbing, which is making its Olympic debut, is scheduled to be contested Aug. 3-6 at Aomi Urban Sports Park in Tokyo.
“It is really important, I think, in our sport to get that competition experience leading to the games, especially with the aspect of route setting,” Condie said. “And so we’re actually really lucky there’s going to be two back-to-back World Cups in Salt Lake where we’ll be on those competition-style lines and get that practice for the Olympics.
“Though we didn’t have it last year, we have it now.”
Route setting refers to the design of a climbing wall or boulder, using the placement of different types of hand- and footholds to make it more or less difficult. Olympic climbers will compete in three disciplines — boulder, lead and speed — their combined scores on which will determine the medalists. In the first two of those, boulder and lead, climbers will be sequestered and unable to view the routes until minutes before they compete.
That adds an element of surprise to the competition it’s difficult to prepare for on a home climbing wall, or even while practicing on real boulders — another popular pandemic training tactic.
Still, Condie and Coleman have done pretty well for themselves so far.
Coleman placed fifth overall in the Boulder World Cup in Switzerland, an event won by Adam Ondra of the Czech Republic. Ondra, who is sponsored by Salt Lake City-based Black Diamond, also plans to participate in both World Cups. Condie took 21st in the World Cup opener and third among American women behind bouldering specialist Natalia Grossman (third) and fellow Olympic qualifier Brook Raboutou (ninth). But at her first major domestic competition, the USA Climbing National Team Trials, Condie placed first overall after winning in lead while taking second in bouldering and speed, where she clocked a personal best time.
“I guess what I’m most proud of from that event is being able to successfully transfer time in training and the successes that I’ve had in training into an actual competition,” Condie said. “I think that’s the goal in competition, is to see how your training is paying off. And so that’s what I’m definitely most proud of.
“And as far as Olympic training goes, I think it’s nice to see that we’ve been doing the right things. All of us had a really good performance at that event and showed up really well in all three disciplines. So I think it just shows that as a team, we’re doing the right things.”
In addition to identifying what tweaks they need to make in the next two months to improve their chances of success in Tokyo, athletes will see a side benefit of competing in the upcoming World Cups. They’ll be able to compete in front of a crowd, including, for the Americans at least, friends and family. Spectators who are not based in Japan have been banned from attending the Olympic Games this summer. Meanwhile the site of the upcoming World Cups, SLC Industry, will allow up to 3,000 spectators per day. Masks will be required.