TOKYO — Solving problems is a huge part of the sport of climbing. That's one reason Kyra Condie was attracted to it more than a decade ago, when she was growing up in Shoreview.
Wednesday night, Condie's analytical skills were put to the test at the Olympic Games. As she gazed up at the roughly 50-foot lead climbing wall, which climbers are tasked with ascending as high as possible in six minutes, she recognized a trouble spot. A move she would have to make midway through the climb was going to be very difficult because of her back, which has limited flexibility after spinal-fusion surgery.
"I was definitely worried about it,'' Condie said. "And then it felt even harder than I expected. It threw me off, but I was happy that I was able to do it and keep going.''
In climbing, though, every puzzle is followed by another. After conquering that tricky maneuver, Condie was tripped up by a hard-to-judge hold. That knocked her off the wall and into 11th place, preventing her from moving on to a second day of competition in her sport's Olympic debut.
The top eight climbers advanced to Friday's finals at Aomi Urban Sports Park. The host country — which is crazy for climbing — put two athletes into the finals, and Condie's U.S. teammate Brooke Raboutou also qualified. Janja Garnbret of Slovakia, winner of the past two world championships, led the qualifying round with 56 total points in a sport where the lowest score wins.
Raboutou was fifth with 192 points, and Japan's Miho Nonaka and Akiyo Noguchi placed third and fourth. Climbers from South Korea, Austria, Poland and France also made the finals.
The format for climbing's first Olympic appearance combined three different disciplines. In addition to finishing 11th in lead, Condie was seventh in speed climbing, in which two climbers race up a nearly 50-foot wall, and was 11th in bouldering, where athletes climb preset routes up a wall nearly 15 feet tall without ropes.
Though her time at the Tokyo Games ended earlier than she had hoped, Condie was proud to be part of the first group of women to climb in the Olympics, introducing her sport to a wider audience.
"I wanted to climb my best,'' she said. "I wanted to feel no regrets with my training and with what I put into this and how I climbed [Wednesday]. And I wanted to have a good time and enjoy the experience.
"I definitely feel like I did that. Generally, I'm quite happy.''
Had the public been allowed to attend, the climbing venue would have been one of the louder and livelier spots at the Games. Climbing is popular in Japan, both on the country's rocky outdoor landscapes and on indoor walls in its cities. The Japanese excel in competition, too; Nonaka and Noguchi both had top-five finishes at the 2019 world championships.
Even empty, it was definitely among the hottest spots on Wednesday's Olympic schedule. A temperature of 91 degrees, a scorching sun and humidity described as "dangerous'' added up to sweaty conditions on the climbing walls.
The competition began with speed climbing, in which athletes race head-to-head up a 49-foot-high wall. Condie was paired with Aleksandra Miroslaw of Poland, whose 6.97 seconds was the fastest time of the day. Condie lowered her personal best on both runs, with a top time of 8.08 seconds.
Next came Condie's specialty, bouldering. Athletes try to reach the top of four different, shorter walls with difficult routes, within a time limit of five minutes for each.
Condie took less than three minutes to solve the first. That was the only time she made it to the top, leaving her in ninth place going into the final phase of competition.
"I was really happy with how speed went, and pretty happy with how bouldering went,'' Condie said. "But I was kicking myself for not finishing that fourth boulder, because it really would have put me in a good spot.''
For many athletes, the humidity added to the challenge. They were repeatedly coating their hands in chalk to try to maintain grip in the damp air.
The U.S. team had trained for the heat and humidity, Condie said, and she felt well prepared. But on her way up the lead wall, she went to grab a sloping hold, not realizing another smaller hold was inside. She lost her grip, and her day was done.
The climbers get to stay in Tokyo for Sunday's Closing Ceremony. That means a few more days in the Olympic village, and an extension of an experience Condie called "absolutely amazing.''
"Qualifying here, and now finally being here after a two-year wait, it has been honestly dreamlike,'' Condie said. "I felt psyched and excited and just happy to represent my sport and show what it's all about.''