Parkite Keegan Swenson, ranked 28th in the world, has eyes set on 2020 Tokyo Olympics
There’s a larger goal at play for Park City professional mountain biker Keegan Swenson.
After placing 18th at the Vallnord World Cup XC 2019 in Andorra in early July, Swenson is one step closer to his ultimate goal of making the USA Cycling team for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.
“Its been a long road for me to finally place in the top 20 of a main event, a huge hurdle to finally accomplish because it validates everything I’ve put into the sport,” Swenson, 25, said. “More importantly, or bigger picture, is that I know I can compete at the highest of levels and this helps put me closer to making the USA Cycling team that will be representing Team USA at the next Olympic Games.”
Since graduating to the elite level of cycling in 2017, Swenson has routinely been competing in events and World Cups throughout the world. Either representing USA on the European circuit or riding for Stans Pivot pro team in the U.S., Swenson’s rise up the rankings has not come without trials.
Competing at the elite level over the past two and a half years, Swenson has had to adjust to the speed and physicality of the riders he was facing on a weekly basis. It started out slow, with him first finishing in the 50s before slowly improving and rededicating himself to the sport. From there, he climbed up the results boards, finishing in the 40s and 30s before his big breakthrough three weeks ago.
“Racing against the 120 best riders every competition was really difficult at first because it was such a huge adjustment,” Swenson said. “To finally be able to figure out how it works and know that I am deserving of my world ranking after the huge finish, it was the big breakthrough moment I’ve been waiting for.”
Swenson got his start into biking very early on. His parents encouraged him to ride from about the age of 6 or 7, and Swenson could be found pedaling away on camping trips and around Park City. When he was 10, he started with the Young Riders, a youth mountain bike program located in Park City.
“Park City has so many opportunities for local bike riders to take advantage of, pushing the kids to get involved with the many trails and programs offered,” Swenson said. “For my parents, they drove me everywhere growing up while competing, making sure I had all of the gear I needed. Now knowing they get to sit back, relax and enjoy me racing — although they still get nervous — is really nice.”
What began as beginner classes for Swenson quickly evolved into a consistent showing at the national level and he won the national championship at 16. The win put him firmly in the view of USA Cycling, allowing him to compete for the United States at a Junior World Cup in Germany and other European events at 17.
“I was invited to compete for Team USA because of the race results I had from nationals and other national level tournaments. … I also did junior orientation camps that first got me involved with USA Cycling,” Swenson said. “At that point, I was doing development pathway camps at 16 and then started competing at 17 as part of the under-23 circuit that eventually led me to where I am today.”
Following his big breakthrough at Vallnord, Swenson is turning his attention to the 2019 USA Cycling Mountain Bike National Championships, taking place this weekend in Winter Park, Colorado. That’s followed by the World Championships in Canada at the end of the season in October, the biggest race of the year for Swenson’s future in cycling.
“These two races are huge for me because they are stepping stones if I want to get to the Olympics next year,” Swenson said. “The season started in February in Greece with the first World Cups following in May. It’s been a long season but finishing it out strong is what I’m focused on.”
Swenson’s results are vital to him competing in the upcoming Olympics, not just for making Team USA but for helping the Americans get two riders into the Games.
According to Swenson, the top three nations get three riders selected to the Olympic Games while teams four through seven get two riders. Team USA is currently in eighth place, a mere 100 points behind the seventh-place nation, so any points accrued by Swenson would help Team USA move up the standings.
“I’m currently ranked 28th in the world right now, but No. 2 for Team USA so getting that seventh spot, or even sixth for a bit of a buffer, would help catapult me to the Olympics,” Swenson said. “This was always a dream to be a pro athlete and make the Olympics, but it didn’t really come into focus until the past couple years when I began to climb the world rankings.”
With the goal of making the Olympic team being his main focus, Swenson is also looking ahead to the following season when he will take some time off to focus on the competitions and trails he’s always wanted to do.
“The biggest thing is to stay fresh and into it but with the free time, there are some events I really want to do like the Park City Point-to-Point race and the Leadville Trail 100 in Colorado,” Swenson said. “I also want to do some marathon and stage racing in Europe and South America, just really focus on enjoying and loving what I do professionally.”
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