We grab a few minutes with Olympic XC racer Kate Courtney to talk about her recovery from a recently fractured arm and her hopes for Tokyo Olympics later this month.
1. How is the arm healing up? mbr chatted to Tom Pidcock last week about his crash and broken collarbone at Nove Mesto, and he said it hadn’t affected his chances for gold in Tokyo at all. And hadn’t impacted his training even. How is it for you?
“Luckily, my arm fracture healed quickly and had a very minimal impact on my training. I did have to spend a month riding on the road only which made skills work a big priority in the past month – but with Thomas Frischknecht by my side and amazing technical trails in Tuscany, I am more than back up to speed!”
2. Next, obvious question, where do you expect to finish in Tokyo? Is anything short of a podium a bad race for you?
“I believe anything is possible for me in Tokyo, but am fully focused on my preparation not on expectations of a particular result. There have certainly been moments in the past, particularly in early 2020, when anything less than a gold medal would have been a disappointment for me and I think the pressure I put on myself surrounding that goal was actually counter productive. After a pandemic delay, I now come into the race as a bit of an underdog which is exactly where I like to be!”
3. You often feature in podcasts, is that something you enjoy doing? Plenty of athletes would rather do as little media work as possible, but what’s the appeal for you?
“As an athlete, I have been given a platform to reach people across the world. For me, that is a huge honor and also a responsibility that I take seriously. Cycling is a unique sport in that most people have had the experience of riding a bike – whether on road, trail or just commuting to and from work. I enjoy the opportunity to connect with those people who share my love of cycling and hopefully inspire others to live more active, healthy, adventurous lives!”
4. How are you getting on with the new Spark? I love the hidden shock, it’s stunning, but is it harder to work with and set up because of that?
“I absolutely love this bike. It certainly represents a huge change over the previous model, but for me the differences have all had a positive impact on my fit and riding style. The internal shock is just as easy to access and work on and actually protects the shock from adverse conditions like the mud we have seen at many world cups this year.”
5. I’ve read that you were a skier and a runner as a kid. Did that multi-sport upbringing help you, do you think? So many great riders have actually avoided too much specialization until later on, is that an important message for young riders?
“I definitely think my multi sport background helped me develop as an athlete. Initially, when I began mountain biking in high school, I felt way behind the racers in Europe who had been competing since early childhood. As time went on, however, I think I realized that there were a lot of advantages in my sport history as well. Ski racing helped me feel comfortable descending fast on the bike, running helped develop my endurance, and strength training that was common in other sports helped me develop overall strength and flexibility. Most importantly, however, I didn’t burn out on riding the bike from specializing too early!”
6. How is it working with Frishi [Thomas Frischknecht]? Does he get you to do lots of skills training?
“Frischi is an incredible mentor for me. I would say skills training and course strategy have been two of the biggest areas where Frischi’s knowledge and experience have helped me immensely. Beyond that, however, Frischi helps me manage the mental side of racing at the top of the sport. As a legendary racer, he uniquely understands what it takes to keep the highs and lows in perspective and keep moving forward.”
7. You’re off an a pre-Olympic training camp next, is that right? What happens differently on a training camp to just regular training? You obviously train all the time, but is it a different kind of training?
“Our training camp in Tuscany was an incredible few weeks for me. The training was very challenging and focused, but similar in many ways to the training I have been doing in the past months preparing for this event. The difference at this camp was the special environment and the relentless focus on every detail that might give us an edge. Aside from training, we focus a lot of energy on managing nutrition, hydration, recovery protocols and mental preparation.
“The piece that people often overlook in these camps, however, is managing stress and staying relaxed. Frischi and Nino have both taught me how important it is to stay calm and enjoy the last few weeks leading into such a big event. We had family around, spent long dinners together and drank wine. I was able to have my fiancé Will present to ride with me and enjoy this unique period in our lives together. There is no question that when I arrive in Tokyo, things will be very hectic and the nerves will come – so keeping myself as relaxed and focused as possible in my final preparation saves a lot of energy.”
8. From my perspective in the UK, it seems XC is gaining in popularity year on year – closer and deeper competition, more spectators, better coverage. Is that what you’re seeing, and if yes why’s it happening?
“I definitely think the sport is continuing to evolve and gain popularity. In particular, I think the women’s field has evolved incredibly rapidly since I first began competing. Just this year, we had a World Cup start with over 100 women in the field! That is huge. I hope the sport continues to grow in the coming years and that the highly competitive and exciting women’s races in particular continue to get more attention and recognition.”