Park City’s Haley Batten secures top-10 finish at the Olympics
Batten leads American riders as Swiss sweep podium
In a race that was all but decided, Park City native Haley Batten decided to keep pushing.
Switzerland’s Jolanda Neff dominated the women’s mountain biking event nearly all race long, taking the lead early in the first lap and never surrendering it after France’s Pauline Ferrand-Prevot’s crash as the two were neck and neck on the first lap. Neff’s fellow countrywomen Sina Frei and Linda Indergrand essentially locked up the other two medal spots on the second lap.
But Batten, who had been in the middle of the pack for most of the race, still continued to push and clocked her fastest lap of the day on the fifth and final lap at 15:15. She passed Ferrand-Prevot and secured a ninth-place finish in Tokyo out of 38 racers, the best result among the three American riders at the Games. American Kate Courtney finished 15th, while Erin Huck was eliminated after being lapped.
“I was slowly just gaining on people,” Batten said in a release. “Then I was like, ‘Alright two to go. It’s the Olympics and I’m just going to give everything I have.’ I just went all in those two laps. I think I was so in the zone, and I didn’t want to have any regrets, so I left it all out there.”
Batten crossed the finish line with a time of 1:20:13, nearly four-and-a-half minutes after Neff secured the gold medal. Nobody could keep up with Neff the entire race. Both of her Swiss teammates finished more than a minute after her.
Frenchwoman Loana Lecomte was the favorite heading into the event as the winner of all four World Cup races this year, but she struggled on Tuesday. Lecomte finished in sixth place, well off her usual pace. Tuesday’s race also marked the first-ever sweep of a mountain biking event at the Olympics.
Batten struggled to separate herself from the pack in the early goings of the race, as she was in 16th place coming out of the starting loop. Batten moved up to 11th by the end of the first lap, but that was the closest to the front she would be through the first three laps. She closed the second lap in 13th place and moved up to 12th by the end of the third.
“This course, there’s minimal passing, and you’re just stuck where you are for a bit,” Batten said in a release. “It’s so technical and there’s so much single track that it’s hard to get by people. I think what kind of happened to me was that I got stuck in a spot and settled in at that pace.”
At that point, she was only a second behind Denmark’s Malene Degn but more than a minute behind Ferrand-Prevot and the Netherlands’ Anne Tauber, who were in seventh and sixth place at the time, respectively. But Tauber needed a wheel change, and Ferrand-Prevot began slowing down. By the end of the fourth lap, Batten had already passed Tauber and was within 15 seconds of Ferrand-Prevot.
At the first time split of the fifth and final lap, Batten closed the gap to just one second and soon moved past the reigning world champion. She had a 15-second lead at the final split and maintained a clean run through the rest of the course to cross the finish line in ninth place.
“I really have no words to explain the Olympics,” Batten said in a release. “I think coming in, you know it’s your dream, but I think living out something that you only really dream of and it’s in your mind since I was a young kid and to be here and to live every day of that was just incredible. I have no words to explain it. It’s amazing,” she said.
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