December of 2019 was a great month for professional rock climbers and Gnarly Nutrition athletes Kyra Condie and Nathaniel Coleman. In Toulouse, France, both athletes secured a spot in the Tokyo Olympics for Team USA. They returned to the US and celebrated the holidays knowing the road ahead of them in 2020 would be one of intense dedication and long days at the USA training facility in Salt Lake City, Utah. They had the next eight months to prepare for the competition of a lifetime.
Rock climbing has never before been an Olympic sport, so not only are Kyra and Nathaniel representing the USA, they’re the first American climbers ever to do so at an Olympic level. There’s extra gravity to earning a spot in the first ever Olympics for sport climbing.
December of 2019 was a turning point for both athletes in another way — one that would significantly impact their Olympic experience. December saw the first case of COVID-19, a novel coronavirus. By January, there were documented cases in the U.S. and in early March, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 had spread into a pandemic. Fast-forward to March 24, and the International Olympic Committee announced the 2020 Summer Games would need to be postponed in the interest of global health.
The new Tokyo Olympic dates are July 23 to August 8, 2021. Athletes who have already qualified remain qualified. Kyra and Nathaniel are now training for their Olympic debut in 2021.
The new plan
Instead of eight months to train, Kyra and Nathaniel now have 20 months — over a year and a half, which both athletes feel is an advantage. “This is a really exciting time in my life,” Kyra said. “Nobody ever gets to be qualified for the Olympics for this long. It’s just extending this exciting time.”
Nathaniel said that while the change took a while to get used to, he’s feeling positive about how the team is moving forward. “I’m going to have to be focusing on this for a little longer than I was originally planning. We have a plan set up now that I feel will leave me very prepared for the 2021 games.”
Kyra moved to Salt Lake City in November of 2019 to be close to the home base of the USA Climbing team and their new private training center, the TC. Both Kyra and Nathaniel attribute the new team facility and the team’s coaches as imperative to their success in qualifying for the Olympics. Head coach Josh Larson sets competition-style boulder problems and sport climbing routes for the team.
“The TC here in Salt Lake has been really helpful just in general to get that [competition] style,” Kyra said. “Usually World Cups was the only time I got to climb on that style, and now I get to climb on that style everyday.”
COVID-19 and social distancing, however, has temporarily paused team training. Instead, Kyra and Nathaniel are training at home with some virtual sessions with coaches and the entire team.
Working (out) from home
Training at home looks similar for both athletes. The goal is to maintain strength and fitness while they wait for gym and team training to begin again. “From my perspective the two most important things to maintain are finger strength and core strength,” says Nathaniel. If you’d like to try out Nathaniel’s core workout, he’s graciously recorded it for all of us to (attempt to) follow along.
Kyra went a step further with quarantine training and built a home wall. But she’s less excited about climbing at home than at the training center with her team. “I’ve never really been somebody who likes to workout at home very much. I like going somewhere else and having that routine, but I’ve actually kind of enjoyed it so I’m definitely gonna leave it up.”
Climbing on her home wall hasn’t been a totally solo adventure though. She often gets on a video call to climb with friend and fellow Gnarly athlete Allison Vest, a professional Canadian rock climber. With both on their individual home walls, the two keep each other company while logging some hours on the wall.
The mental preparation for competition
Extra time training for the Olympics is potentially incredibly beneficial to gaining strength and precision. With sport climbing’s Olympic debut containing a triathlon-like display of three climbing disciplines, there’s a lot for Kyra and Nathaniel to train for.
While both are able to maintain strength training at home, mimicking the stress of competition climbing is nearly impossible. Both climbers were planning to utilize the World Cup competition circuit as preparation for the Olympics, but so far those are either canceled or postponed for almost all of 2020. “It’s really hard to simulate the amount of pressure and the difficulty of the climbs that you’ll encounter on the World Cup stage,” says Nathaniel. He and Kyra remain hopeful the full World Cup circuit competition will take place in 2021, leading into the Olympics.
“As soon as the world cups start up again, every competition between then and the games is going to be super valuable,” Nathaniel said. “Experience in those World Cups can be the make or break point of getting to the next round, and when you don’t compete in the World Cups, you start to kind of lose the tactical edges that experience will give you.”
Once competition climbing starts up again, not only will the climbers have to assess their post-quarantine climbing ability, routesetters will have to do the same. “It’s going to be really hard for the routesetters as well to gauge how good we are after this whole quarantine,” said Nathaniel. “At the beginning of every season, they have to reevaluate how good the competitors are for the season and this is going to be like a wildcard.”
Looking toward 2021
The extra training time for both climbers allows them to dedicate more focus into training for all three disciplines. “With so much extra time, I’m definitely going to try to improve on my weaknesses a little more,” Kyra said. “Whereas in Toulouse, I leaned into my strengths a little more.”
Both plan on doing as much as possible to clock a faster time on the speed wall, climb higher on the lead route and nail the technical boulder problems.
Worth the wait
Getting a ticket to the Olympics is one of the highest honors in the sporting world. Sport climbing will be one of the most exclusive events at Tokyo 2021 with only 40 spots, 20 men and 20 women, competing for six medals.
Although we won’t watch our Gnarly Olympic athletes compete in Tokyo until 2021, it will undoubtedly be worth the wait. More time for them to train means more time for us to get stoked about their journey in Tokyo.
Photos of Kyra Condie by Savannah Cummins
Photos of Nathaniel Colemen by Ben Neilson