Park City mountain biker Haley Batten competes in Tokyo on Tuesday
Batten’s race is scheduled to begin at midnight in Park City on July 27
Parkites will have to stay up into the wee hours of the morning on July 27 to watch Park City native Haley Batten compete in the women’s cross-country mountain biking event at this year’s Olympics in Tokyo.
The women’s cross-country mountain biking event is scheduled to begin at 3 p.m. in Tokyo, which would be midnight in Park City on the 27th. Batten will join former world champion Kate Courtney and Erin Huck in their attempt to bring the gold medal back to the U.S.
Batten comes into the Games as the highest-ranked American rider in the World Cup standings at 15th place thanks to a torrid start to the 2021 World Cup slate. She started the season with a third-place finish in Albstadt, Germany, before earning a second-place finish in Nove Mesto, Czech Republic, to secure a spot on the Olympic team. Batten’s performance has fallen off a little bit since then, ending the last two races in 16th and 20th, but she has still proven herself on the international stage.
France’s Loana Lecomte is the heavy favorite in Tokyo. The reigning under-23 world champion has won all four World Cup stops so far and has shown no signs of stopping. Countrywoman Pauline Ferrand-Prevot is behind her in second place in the World Cup standings.
But fellow Parkite and mountain biker Keegan Swenson likes Batten’s odds for success in Tokyo.
“I definitely think that she has a shot at winning and definitely a shot at the podium as well, it really just kind of depends on how her race goes and how everyone else’s race goes,” Swenson said. “But I think on a perfect day, I think she’s capable of winning.”
Swenson also thinks that Lecomte will be the woman to beat in Tokyo, but he noted that it’s not a certainty, especially because it’s the Olympics.
“I think she’s definitely going to be the one to watch, but it is the Olympics, so I think people always seem to find a little special motivation,” Swenson said. “I think it’s kind of anyone’s race, so it should be pretty interesting.”
Batten’s parents, Cathy and Patrick, have been anxiously waiting for this day to come ever since Batten officially qualified for the Games in May, even if they can’t be there in person to cheer her on. Family members are not allowed to travel to Tokyo due to coronavirus concerns, but the Battens will be heading to Orlando, Florida, to watch her race with the other families at NBC’s studios.
“As we get closer, you know, you really wish that you could be there in person and you just realize the enormity of such a cool event that most people don’t get to do and who knows if it will come again,” Cathy said. “You have to look at it as kind of a once-in-a-lifetime experience because you just never know if you’ll be able to make it to the Olympics again. It would be very nice to be there, and it’s unfortunate.”
Cathy still remembers when Haley met Olympic mountain biker Lea Davison right after Haley won her first national championship in 2012. Davison had dinner with the Battens, and Cathy thinks that’s when Haley first dreamed of representing her country at the Olympics.
“I think just seeing that these are normal human beings and they’re doing the same thing that she really loves and that just really inspired her to (think), ‘Wow, I think I would like to do that one day,’” Cathy said. “She loved it and was really passionate about it and kind of asked to do a little bit more, have a real training program and maybe talking to a coach and seeing where she could take it.”
The girl who was once in the Young Riders program like so many other Park City kids and moved on to riding with the high school team is now gearing up for the biggest ride of her life. The Olympic dream still doesn’t feel real to her parents.
“It’s kind of hard to get my mind around it, and then as time has gone by and different things have happened – it’s in the media, for example, it’s on homepages for USA Cycling, she starts to get things in the mail – and so gradually it’s sinking in that she’s actually going,” Patrick said. “Now that she’s actually gone there and she’s kind of showed us pictures of herself – she’s got all this nice Team USA clothing that she’s wearing and she’s sending us pictures of that – and now it’s become really real now and it’s really cool.”
Park City is well-known for its Olympians in winter sports, not so much for its summer sports. But Batten has an opportunity to not only proudly represent the United States, but to race for gold for Park City and all of the people who have helped her along the way.
“She’s a personage that’s representing Team USA, and I think she really appreciates that as an American,” Patrick said. “Also, just the amount of background that she has from Park City in her riding, I think she really, really thinks of that as her foundation. So the people that were there, the people that supported her, the race promoters and the friends that she raced with throughout all the young groups all the way up to pro levels. Everybody in that community is so supportive, it’s really amazing.”
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Park City lost 7-0, but coach Tom Merchant says his team played better than the score indicates.