For some of America’s female mountain bike Olympic hopeful, last year’s postponement of the Tokyo Games was a big disappointment.
Not so much for 22-year-olds Haley Batten.
“I think it was actually useful for me,” Batten said VeloNews. “I think before, I was on the long team list, but not someone that anyone saw. I wanted to do my best and show what I was capable of in u23, but now my eyes are a little more on me in the elite ranks and I think I have the potential to perform really well. I think I’m in the fight more than before. ”
After her third place ends at Sunday’s World Championship XCO race in Albstadt, Germany, Batten has officially entered the arena.
Batten, the youngest member of the U.S. Olympic long jump team with six riders, has ridden mountain bikes for over half of his life. The Utah native grew up going to local races with his father. In 2012, she won her first national title in the 13-14 years category at U.S. Cycling Mountain Bike Nationals in Sun Valley, Idaho.
She remembers seeing the Olympic mountain bike events during that trip.
“It was London, and I remember when they called Georgia Gould, Todd Wells and Sam Schultz,” Batten said. “I remember they got 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 Batn’s national championship jersey.
“I think it said something like ‘chick the boys,'” Batten said. “I still have it.”
Later, the two, who were 14 years apart, became teammates on the Clif Pro Team. Now they are both fighting for a place in Team USA.
VeloNews has been chronic the efforts of the U.S. women Olympic hopefuls for years now. The six women have shown tremendous dedication to pursuing the necessary points to qualify for the Olympics as well as use each other as training partners and a support network when they are not on the field.
Three of them – Kate Courtney, Hannah Finchamp and Batten – are in their 20s. National champion Chloe Woodruff is 33. Using the somewhat arbitrary measurement of age, these women were able to get to the Games once again. Davison and Erin Huck are 36 and 40 years old, respectively.
Does Batten think age might have something to do with selection?
“It has not gone up in 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 that anyone’s lifetime – in sports or on the planet – should not be included at all.
“Or people have their highest year between Olympic cycles and never get that shot,” she said. “So you can not approach it that way. It’s hard I wish we could all go. But the Olympics are not just about showing up at the starting line. It really is that the best rider or the future medal-potential rider should be there. Someone who can achieve a medal or someone who can in the future. USA Cycling really cares about performance a lot, that’s what the Olympics are. You never know when it’s going to happen. It’s just another bike race, but it’s not just another bike race. I think that’s what makes it so exciting and cool. ”
If it sounds like Batten is being coached on how to understand and approach the Olympics, 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 been working with Armstrong for three years and said that especially the two years this year have focused on as much off-the-bike as on it.
“A lot of what I’ve learned from her is that everyone does similar training,” Batten said. “Yes, there are gains to be made and small details, but much of it has to do with how you prepare and make sure you put everything in place. How your equipment is set up, something like that. I think she has taught me a lot about how to train well, how to train hard, but also how to look beyond the bike – more than anything else it is your head, the perspective. I know what I want to do, want to achieve, but I have to do it with a mindset that actually allows me to get there. ”
Armstrong has also made Batten dive deep into the details of the selection criteria for the Olympics.
The US 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 are ready for Tokyo. If not, it’s back on the drawing board, where UCI points, World Cup results and, as Batten mentioned, “future medal potential” are what matter.
“Wduring the Olympics, the criteria are very important, ”she said. “To be really aware of what the criteria are and what it takes to qualify. It is not a hope and prayer agreement. You need to dot your i’s and cross your t’s. ”
The bat has come roaring into its first season as an elite of much more than a wing and a prayer. With the podium finish at the US Pro Cup in April and the World Cup last weekend, she makes every race count.
Nine years later, she is much closer to her childhood Olympic dream.