Seeking a place in Tokyo 2020
When Kyra Condie was 12 years old she started standing with her hip cocked to one side, which her mother perfunctorily interpreted as the preface to “a little teenage attitude.” In fact, she was diagnosed with scoliosis and subsequently underwent back surgery to fuse 10 vertebrae, from her lower back up to her neck, to correct her curved spine.
Kyra at that point had been climbing for two years, and she was already in love with the sport and with competition. Major back surgery was scary stuff, carrying the potential for life-altering complications. Fortunately, the surgery was successful, but the question remained: Would she be able to return to climbing? Her doctor never wavered in his faith in her.
“Send me a picture when you’re on the podium,” he said.
Kyra thought, Oh, he believes in me. “That was the moment I thought it was totally possible.”
In ensuing years Condie would win Youth Nationals (sport and bouldering) a total of five times. She also kept her own word to the surgeon, mailing a photo of herself atop a podium with a note of thanks.
Condie has continued to rage in the competition and gym scene. Her best comp results are fifth place in the Vail Bouldering World Cup in 2018, sixth place in the Tai’an Bouldering World Cup 2018, and third place Overall Combined in the Arco 2015 Youth World Championships. Outdoors, Condie has climbed two V12s. Enthusiastic about the news that climbing has become an Olympic event, she regards a background in speed climbing as one of her biggest assets heading into 2020.
“Most of the World Cup climbers didn’t start speed climbing until this year,” she says, “but because I’ve competed in it for years, my starting point is a bit ahead.”
Nathaniel Coleman says his biggest strength is his mind, but it probably doesn’t hurt that he’s also really strong. How strong? Strong enough to have flashed every single finals problem in the USA Bouldering Nationals for the past three years in a row, a hat trick that makes him the reigning American bouldering champ.
Coleman has long hair that he pulls back into a loose bun during competitions, and chiseled facial features that make him look like Owen Wilson’s younger brother. He climbs with the type of control that makes everything look easy. He has a number of mantras, including: “Follow the flow of the psych,” “Climb better, not stronger,” and, simply, “Climb like Adam Ondra.”
Coleman has been crushing plastic since he was 9 years old, though he’s no slouch on real rock either. Outside he has sent V14 and 5.14b. To prepare for the Olympics, Coleman wants to work on his route-reading ability. “That means more practice on World Cup-style problems so that type of movement becomes intuitive and familiar.”
[Also Watch VIDEO: NATHANIEL COLEMAN’S NEW FA – POWER OF THE PSYCH (V14)]
In one of the best moments in one of the best films in the Reel Rock 12 tour, Margo Hayes, 19 at the time, quietly recites the details of her climb like a memorized dance routine, with every move drawn out on index cards taped in a trail down her wall alongside a mirror.
The route is La Rambla, in Siurana, Spain, and with her ascent on February 26, 2017, she became the first female to climb confirmed 5.15—following it with a second one, the famous Biographie, at Céüse, France, that autumn.
Hayes, now 21, is one of those who may take part in another moment in history, the 2020 Olympics. The Boulder native is putting in the work and began incorporating speed training into her regimen after the combined requirement came out.
“It’s going to be a challenge to qualify, but I’m going to give it my best shot,” Hayes told Rock and Ice magazine last April. “There is no other way to qualify but try!”
Although best-known for her lead-climbing accomplishments (she climbed 14 5.14s on rock in 2016), Hayes is well-rounded, bringing home the gold in both bouldering and lead at the IFSC Youth World Championships in Guangzhou, China, in November of 2016; coming in first in bouldering and second in lead at the Pan American Youth Championships in Montreal in October-November 2017; and placing an outstanding 10th in bouldering (and 21st in lead) at the adult IFSC Climbing World Championships in Innsbruck in September to finish 11th overall.
Hayes’s interests span much more than climbing. In 2016, she won a prize in a scholastic art show with a piece that meshed art and science. She moved to France the same year to immerse herself in the language and culture, studying at university in Aix en Provençe. In May, Hayes joined the 60-plus climbers who met with politicians to discuss protecting public lands.
[Also Read INTERVIEW: MARGO HAYES ON PAPICHULO (5.15A)]
In an email to Gym Climber in October, Hayes presented herself as positive about the all-around format and what it has generated. “I think that the combined format adds an extra challenge, because most athletes specialize in one or two events. It was exciting to watch the combined final in Innsbruck this year and see how quickly athletes have taken to all three disciplines!”
Rudolph “Drew” Ruana is a true child of American sport-climbing’s birthplace, Smith Rock, Oregon. The 19-year-old has not only established the area’s hardest route, Assassin (5.14d), but his parents by chance met at the area. One of them was a bit of a dirtbag at the time, and maybe that was good luck.
“My dad didn’t have any food, and my mom had a bag of tortilla chips,” Drew says, “so he offered her route beta for some chips.”
Ruana, from Redmond, Washington, is among the top contenders to gain spots at the 2020 Olympics. A climber from early childhood, he began competing 11 years ago.
Ruana has been letting the idea of the Olympics simmer in his mind, and last year decided to begin training toward that goal.
“I realized it was just a matter of fine-tuning,” he says. “I think I have a chance of doing well”—in the qualifying process—“if everything lines up right.”
He has taken a “deferral year” before college and is putting in eight to nine hours a day at the climbing gym. But school remains on the table. “Student of the month” last May at Woodinville High School, Ruana was recognized for balancing the duties of a dedicated student and top athlete. He was placed in advanced courses from the seventh grade until he graduated last year. He eventually plans to study chemical engineering, following in the footsteps of his parents, both engineers.
While many climbers were surprised by and criticized the combined format for Olympic climbing, Ruana says he accepts it.
“I think for now, we’re all winners because we got climbing in the Olympics,” he says. “The combined format showcases the best aspects of climbing, although in the future it’d be nice to have individual events. It’s pretty hard to turn a speed climber into a boulderer.”
As to making the cut, Ruana says, “There are so many strong athletes in the U.S. right now . . . [O]n any given day, any of us could make it. Or any of us could have a bad climbing day and blow it.”
Although he used to say he was strongest in sport climbing, Ruana now considers bouldering to be his forte. His accomplishments include 17th in Combined at the (adult) September 2018 IFSC Climbing World Championships in Innsbruck (he was highest-placing American male); second in the Sport Climbing Open National Championships in March 2018 in Reno, Nevada; and third in the USAC Bouldering Open National Championships in Salt Lake City in February 2018. This past February, he was third at Bouldering Nationals in Bend, Oregon.
—By Meredith Reitemeier
[Also Read DREW RUANA, 16, SENDS LE CADRE NOUVELLE (5.14D) IN CÉÜSE]
Brooke Raboutou has been climbing since she could walk, which is unsurprising since both her parents, Didier Raboutou and Robyn Erbesfield-Raboutou, are not only former world-class climbers and champions, but the founders of ABC Kids Climbing, the only climbing gym in the world specifically for youth climbers, in Boulder, Colorado.
Brooke is “very excited” by the prospect of the Olympics. “It’s a great opportunity for more people to know about the sport and hopefully get to try it out and enjoy it like I do.”
Brooke might just have more comp experience than any other peer her age. She started competing at a high level at age 7, and at 11 was the youngest person to climb 5.14b. Comp results include first place in lead in the IFSC Youth World Championships in Moscow in August, ninth at the 2017 bouldering World Cup at Vail, and first for All Around at both the 2016 Youth World Championships and the 2017 Pan American Championships.
[Also Read SNAPSHOT: BROOKE RABOUTOU]
Two guys hauled hard up the speed wall. Both were top athletes, but the one in purple, Zach Galla, pulled clearly ahead, his arms and legs a fluid, skittering blur.
At the USA Climbing Combined Invitational in Salt Lake City on January 20, Galla clocked an impressive 6.82 seconds, coming in second in speed behind Nathaniel Coleman, and beating out John Brosler, who set a new national record of 5.99 but couldn’t recover from a previous mistake. Yet the 18-year-old Galla, from Suwanee, Georgia, is primarily a boulderer.
Going on to win bouldering, and placing sixth in lead (won by Sean Bailey), Galla walked away as champion of the Men’s Combined Invitational, earning a coveted spot on team USA. Galla seems to have come out of nowhere, but has simply slipped by under the radar—until now.
“I felt pretty confident going into the Combined Invitational that I would at least make finals”—which required consistency in all three events—”but I had no expectations after that. As the final round went on, I realized I had a chance to win. I was pretty surprised.”
He had a head start training speed, he says, as opposed to athletes who have had to rush to learn it. “Even before the combined format was announced, my coaches put a lot of emphasis on being well-rounded because of the benefits it has on individual disciplines of climbing.”
The Atlanta-area boulderer, who began climbing at 8 years old, made his first Open Finals in February 2018 at the USAC Bouldering Open National Championships, finishing fifth. He was third in 2017 USAC Bouldering Youth Nationals in Salt Lake and third at the Battle for the Fort National Cup, Fort Collins, Colorado, last December.
While he has top-notch gyms to help him train in hopes of an Olympic berth, Galla also has some time constraints.
“I’m still in high school, so I have to go to school every day during the week,” he says, “but I get out at 2:10, so I have enough time to go to the gym and train. I train three days on, one day off, and alternate between different styles.” He says if he wasn’t geared toward the Olympics, he would still be saving money to travel and compete in bouldering.
Ashima. Like Cher or Seal, she’s someone—perhaps the only climber—who is known by her first name alone. Her celebrity has transcended the insular world of rock climbing, with profiles appearing in The New York Times and even The New Yorker.
The 17-year-old, of Japanese heritage, has literally grown up before our eyes, thanks to YouTube and Reel Rock segments. We have seen her morph from that pint-sized New York City crusher—who in 2012, at 10, became the youngest person to send V13 with Crown of Aragorn, in Hueco Tanks, Texas—to a paragon of all-around technical ability, in 2015 becoming the first woman to climb V15 with Horizon, Mount Hiei, Japan.
She set an equal pace on plastic. From 2015 through 2017, she three-peated as dual IFSC Youth World Champion in lead and bouldering. In February she won her first U.S. Bouldering National Championship. Balancing outdoor climbing and her ballooning competition schedule as she tries to qualify for the Olympics is a challenge, but Ashima told Gym Climber in October that she is confident she can “juggle them both.”
In 2017 she began competing on the adult World Cup circuit, with impressive finishes. She gained a World Cup podium in October, placing second in Xiamen, China, in lead—her strongest discipline. In 2018 Ashima logged another two finals appearances in World Cups, and at the World Championships, in Innsbruck, Austria, finished fifth in lead. She told GC of the World Championships,
“I was very frustrated at first because I felt like my performance went downhill from lead [and] bouldering to speed, but I am actually quite happy with my attempt at the event. I learned so much at this one competition.”
In spring 2018, Ashima moved to Japan with her parents. Her relocation prompted some to question whether she might switch teams and try to compete for Japan in 2020. But she seemed to quiet these rumors on Instagram: “You are probably thinking it’s all because of the Olympics but tbh [to be honest] I’ve always dreamed of being based out of Japan so that I can enjoy the abundance of rocks spread out all over the country.” She has continued to compete for the red, white and blue in international comps.
[Also Read ASHIMA SHIRAISHI: A STRONG MIND]
Call it home-field advantage, or home away from home.Sean Bailey was staying with his “grandpa,” whom he has long visited to hike and ski in Vail, Colorado, during the Bouldering World Cup there in June. His father came, too.
“It definitely helped to be around family,” Bailey, age 22, says from Austria, where he is training and competing.
Something worked that weekend, anyway, because Bailey, a product of Vertical World in the Seattle region, came out blazing.
Showing the mercurial nature of comp finishes, he had entered the 20-person semifinals field in 16th, but finished semis in third and took the silver in finals.
Bailey has made three other finals—placing sixth, fifth and eighth—in lead World Cups in 2017, and at an event in 2016 he pulled an impressive fourth. In bouldering in 2017, he clocked 11th in Vail, the highest-placing American male. As of 2018, when bouldering ended and lead comps began, he was 10th at each of the Briançon, Chamonix and Arco lead World Cups. His dual expertise suits the Olympic format, which favors balanced climbers, and he has recently begun practicing speed.
On home shores, Bailey has won the 2016 and 2018 USA Climbing Sport and Speed Open National Championships, and he was second behind Coleman at the USA Climbing Bouldering Open National Championship in February.
Bailey can climb rock, too, when he gets to it. In 2016, smack in the middle of a comp season doing seven overseas events, and in one exceedingly productive week, he pulled an ascent (the 14th overall), of Chris Sharma’s Biographie/Realization (5.15a).
This article appeared in two installments in Gym Climber No. 1 and No. 2.