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Courtney ramping up preparations for Tokyo Olympics

  • Kate Courtney, a former Kentfield resident and Branson School standout, has already won a World Cup title in 2019 and a World Championship in 2018.(Bartek Wolinski/Red Bull Content Pool)

  • Kate Courtney performs at UCI XCO in Nove Mesto na Morave, Czech Republic on Oct. 4 (Bartek Wolinski/Red Bull Content Pool)

  • Kate Courtney performs at UCI XCO in Nove Mesto na Morave, Czech Republic on Oct.1. (Bartek Wolinski/Red Bull Content Pool)

  • Kate Courtney seen at UCI XCO in Nove Mesto na Morave, Czech Republic on October 4. (Bartek Wolinski/Red Bull Content Pool)

  • Kate Courtney performs at UCI XCO World Championships in Leogang, Austria on Oct. 10. Courtney pre-qualified for the Tokyo Olympics with a fifth-place finish at the 2019 Championships in Canada. (Bartek Wolinski/Red Bull Content Pool)



Kate Courtney had to put her dreams on hold when the Tokyo Olympics were postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic but, as 2020 winds to a close, Courtney is beginning to ramp up her preparations for the Games, now set for July 2021.

Courtney, a former Branson School standout who grew up in Kentfield, already has World Cup and World Championship victories under her belt. The 25-year-old rider is looking to add an Olympic medal to that haul.

“It is my first Olympic Games,” Courtney said. “It’s a new stage and, of course, after dealing with (the coronavirus pandemic) and having the Olympics postponed, it will be a bigger spotlight than ever before.”

The Olympic mountain bike course, located in Izu City, measures 4,100 meters with elevations of up to 150 meters. Olympic races typically go between five and seven laps and last about 90 minutes.

“It is one of the more technical courses we’ve ever ridden and one of the more beautiful courses,” Courtney said. “It will be a very exciting course to race on and also for spectators.”

The field will feature around 30 of the best riders in the world all taking off from the start line at once. Mountain biking is an individual sport so the tactics are much different from team-based cycling events.

“One of the things that makes mountain biking great is the tactics are very dynamic. There isn’t one tactic that works every time,” Courtney said, adding that making the right move at the right time will be crucial. “You have to have the power to get out into the front and then stay there.”

Courtney qualified for the Olympics for Team USA with a fifth-place finish at the 2019 World Championships in Canada in September. A week later, Courtney doubled down, coming from behind to win the 2019 World Cup during the final race of the series in West Virginia.

All of that success gave Courtney a ton of momentum heading into the Games — originally scheduled to take place in July 2020 — until the pandemic hit in March and the Games were officially delayed a couple of weeks later.

“Something I’ve thought about during this time …  I realized that athletes are really good at adversity but not so much uncertainty,” Courtney said. “The uncertainty of not knowing whether the Olympics would happen was something new and hard to adapt to.”

Courtney detailed her conflicting emotions over the cancelation in an op-ed she wrote for the Wall Street Journal.

“I’ve tried to stay focused, pushing hard and thinking ‘all in for Tokyo,’ only to find my mind consumed with panic and disappointment rather than strength and motivation,” Courtney wrote. “The rational side of my brain knows that my dreams aren’t canceled—they’re just on hold for the moment, as the world copes with an unprecedented challenge. There are so many people struggling just to survive right now that my heartbreak feels indulgent, unfair and unjustified.”

Courtney channeled those emotions into starting the Climbing for COVID Relief challenge. She climbed more than 100,000 feet over the course of 10 days in an effort to raise money for the World Health Organization’s COVID response fund.

“That was a fun way to break up some of the pandemic training for me and to connect to other members of the cycling community and put some of our mileage toward a good thing,” Courtney said.

Training during a pandemic has presented its own challenges but, as a mountain biker, Courtney can get in plenty of time on the bike while maintaining social distance. Courtney also spends a lot of time strength training in her garage.

“The pandemic has definitely impacted my training,” Courtney said. “There’s a lot of ways we can be adaptable and make the best out of the situation.

“The biggest impact has been involving other people — seeing physical therapists, going to the gym or seeing your workout buddy.”

Courtney returned to elite competition at the 2020 World Championships in Austria in early October but her race was cut short by a crash that resulted in the third concussion of her career.

“I was able to recognize the symptoms during the race, pull myself out of the race and really prioritize my recovery,” Courtney said.

Courtney put herself in a different type of quarantine, limiting her exposure to bright lights and cutting down her screen time for a couple of weeks.

“It was a real serious mental rest for a few weeks and that was able to completely heal me,” Courtney said.

For Courtney, the concussion was just another obstacle in a year filled with them. She is now symptom free and is focused on being in peak form for the Olympics.

“I do think the Olympics will happen,” Courtney said. “Hopefully we’ll be able to find a way to do it safely. An as athlete, the best thing I can do is keep believing in it.”

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