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For some of America’s female mountain bike Olympic hopefuls, last year’s postponement of the Tokyo games was a major disappointment.
Not so much for 22-year old Haley Batten.
“I think it was actually helpful for me,” Batten told VeloNews. “I think before, I was on the long team list but not someone that anyone was watching. I would do my best and show what I was capable of in u23, but now eyes are on me a little more in the elite ranks and I think I have a potential of performing really well. I think I’m in the fight more than before.”
After her third place finish at Sunday’s World Cup XCO race in Albstadt, Germany, Batten has officially entered the arena.
Batten, the youngest member of the U.S.’ six-rider Olympic long team, has been racing mountain bikes for over half of her life. The Utah native grew up going to local races with her dad. In 2012 she won her first national title in the 13-14 year old category at USA Cycling mountain bike nationals in Sun Valley, Idaho.
She remembers watching the Olympic mountain bike events during that trip.
“It was London, and I remember when they called up Georgia Gould, Todd Wells, and Sam Schultz,” Batten said. “I remember them getting Olympic team photos and I remember thinking ‘dang, this is in the Olympics!’ I was fired up from getting my own jersey, and I was like, ‘I want to go to the Olympics.'”
Then, Batten met Olympian-in-real life in Lea Davison through a family friend. Davison signed Batten’s national champ jersey.
“I think it said something like ‘chick the boys,'” Batten said. “I still have it.”
Later the two, aged 14 years apart, would become teammates on the Clif Pro Team. Now, they’re both fighting for a spot in Tokyo on Team USA.
VeloNews has been chronicling the efforts of the American female Olympic hopefuls for years now. The six women have shown enormous dedication in pursuing the points needed to qualify for the Olympic games, as well as using each other as training partners and a support network when they’re not on the line.
Three of them — Kate Courtney, Hannah Finchamp, and Batten — are in their 20s. National champ Chloe Woodruff is 33. Using the somewhat arbitrary metric of age, those women could have another go at the Games. Davison and Erin Huck are 36 and 40-years old, respectively.
Does Batten think that age might have anything to do with the selection?
“It hasn’t crossed my mind,” she said. “I think the Olympics are such a rare opportunity for anyone. Of course, I hope to have a long career in cycling, but you never know what things will look like in the future. This year is a good example – it was postponed and could still be canceled.”
In fact, Batten continued, someone’s longevity — in the sport or on the planet —shouldn’t really factor in at all.
“Or people have their peak year between Olympic cycles and never get that shot,” she said. “So you can’t approach it that way. It’s tough, I wish we could all go. But the Olympics isn’t really about just showing up at the start line. It really is that the best rider or the future medal-potential rider should be there. Someone that can achieve a medal or someone who can in the future. USA Cycling really cares about performance a lot, that’s what the Olympics is. You never know when it’s gonna happen. It is just another bike race but it’s not just another bike race. I think that’s what makes it so exciting and cool.”
If sounds like Batten is being coached on how to understand and approach the Olympic selection, in addition to winning as many races as possible, it’s because she is. And her coach, three-time Olympic gold medalist Kristin Armstrong, knows a lot about both.
Batten has worked with Armstrong for three years, and said that this year in particular the two have focused on as much off-the-bike as on it.
“A lot of what I’ve learned from her is that everyone is doing similar training,” Batten said. “Yes, there are gains to be made and small details, but a lot of it has to do with how you prepare, making sure you’re putting everything in place. How your equipment is set up, things like that. I think she’s taught me a lot of how to train well, how to train hard, but also how to look beyond the bike — more than anything it’s your head, the perspective. I know what I want to do, want to achieve, but I need to do it with a mindset that actually allows me to get there.”
Armstrong has also had Batten dive deeply into the minutiae of the selection criteria for the Olympic games.
The U.S. Olympic selection process is both discretionary and results-based. This weekend’s World Cup in Nové Město, for example, is an automatic qualifier. If any of the American women win the XCO race in the Czech Republic, they’re in for Tokyo. If not, it’s back to the drawing board, where UCI points, World Cup results, and, like Batten mentioned, “future medal-potential” are what matter.
“With the Olympics the criteria is very important,” she said. “Being really aware of what the criteria is and what it takes to qualify. It’s not a hope and pray deal. You have to dot your i’s and cross your t’s.”
Batten has come roaring into her first season as an elite on much more than a wing and a prayer. With podium finishes at the U. S. Pro Cup in April and the World Cup last weekend, she’s making every race count.
Nine years later, she’s that much closer to her childhood Olympic dream.