Raboutou started young too. She comes from a family of climbers in Boulder, Colorado, where her mom, a former champion, runs a gym. She’s been climbing since before she can remember. Condie noticed her for the first time at a national competition in 2010: “This girl was a lot younger than me, and just crushing everything.”
As the sport has increased in popularity, teenage girls are emerging as its new stars. Their superior weight-to-strength ratio may give them an edge. In 2016, teens swept the women’s national championships, and Raboutou herself set several records before she turned 12. They’re also gaining on men. Last fall, a nine-year-old girl became the youngest person to scale Yosemite’s 3,000-foot rock formation, El Capitan.
At the Olympics, climbers will compete in three disciplines: lead climbing, where they ascend as high as possible in six minutes; speed, where two climbers race side by side; and bouldering, where they try to complete the most routes possible of the same wall in four minutes. “It’s not just about being strong,” Raboutou says, “but solving the problems in front of you.”
The preparation is grueling. In Colorado, Raboutou practices for up to 11 hours a day, fine-tuning runs, doing mobility exercises for her shoulders, and to build strength, dangling by three fingers from a ledge . . . and then doing pull-ups.