Typhoon upsets American mountain biker Kate Courtney’s bid for Olympic gold

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TOKYO – First there was a pandemic. Then there was a typhoon.

Kate Courtney of Kentfield finally made her Olympic mountain biking debut a year later than expected, but another force of nature took a toll on her performance.

The 2018 world champion, who was favorite to become the first American to win a medal in the event, finished 15th on the muddy and slippery course in Izu, Japan, two hours southwest of Tokyo.

“It was a disappointing day for me – I wasn’t where I hoped to be,” Courtney said via email, hours after her race. “The race I had did not reflect the work that I and so many others around me put in to prepare for this event. But I also crossed the line as an Olympian for the first time and I’m proud to have made that dream come true.

Monday night it rained heavily and the course was still being rebuilt with bulldozers during warm-ups, a first for her, Courtney said.

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“It had been hot and dry all week,” said Courtney coach Jim Miller, director of athletic performance for USA Cycling. “Then a typhoon blew overnight. They really had to change course. They did a terrific job of rebuilding it in a short period of time, but it baffled everyone. “

Well, not everyone. Switzerland’s Jolanda Neff looked unfazed by all that had changed, leading a medal sweep for the Swiss. Neff took the lead in the first lap, after the fall of the French world champion Pauline Ferrand-Prevot on the slippery course. Neff dominated, beating compatriot Sina Frie in 1 minute and 11 seconds. Linda Indergand, also of Switzerland, arrived eight seconds later for bronze.

The rest of the peloton didn’t stand a chance, including Courtney.

“She didn’t get off to a good start,” Miller said. “She was invaded right out of the line. … She has just been rejected. From there, it got worse.

Courtney, 25, grew up going down the slopes of Mount Tamalpais, where the sport of mountain biking was invented. She went to school at Stanford. And although she has been mountain biking all over the world, the muddy conditions are not her strong suit.

“She’s not a great rider in the mud; it’s a weakness for her, ”Miller said. “So, waking up in the mud, she put on a good face. But it was in the back of his head.

As with all Olympians, the postponement of the Olympics disrupted Courtney’s training, but in June she said the pandemic had taught her resilience and she felt focused and prepared.

“She’s pretty disappointed and disappointed,” Miller said. “Put in as much effort and energy and reach 15th place. “

Courtney said by email: “Even though I didn’t have my best day, I realized the dream of competing in the Olympics and had the honor of representing my family and my country on the most big stage of the world. “

Courtney spent about 10 days in Japan before her race, learning a course that, when dry, worked to her advantage.

“She had it made up pretty well,” Miller said.

Then came the rain. And the course changes. And the disappointing result.

Courtney now has an Olympic experience, although Miller – who coached Kristin Armstrong to three Olympic gold medals – knows it is a very strange experience. Courtney and her team were sequestered in a satellite village with other mountain bikers.

“It sure doesn’t look like the Olympics,” Miller said. “It was like another mountain bike race with everyone you know. It was not the same energy.

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But because it was outside of Tokyo, the silver lining was that spectators were allowed on the course, one of the biggest crowds the sport has had in over a year.

“It was amazing running in front of the crowd,” said Courtney. “I felt so much love and support from the spectators. The Olympics are such a unique event. I am honored to have been a part of it. “

Courtney will be on a plane home on Wednesday – athletes must leave Japan soon after their competition due to coronavirus protocols. She and Miller will break down what went wrong in the race and quickly refocus for the world championship in Italy at the end of August.

“It gives him something to redirect his energy to,” Miller said.

And then there is another Olympics in just three years, in Paris.

“It’s a quick turnaround,” Miller said. “It will be easy for her to stay focused.”

Ann Killion is a columnist for The San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @annkillion



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