Just last year, Kate Courtney was racing in the U23 classification at the mountain bike world championships.
On Saturday, she accomplished what no American woman had done in 17 years when the 22-year-old from San Francisco captured the elite cross-country gold medal at the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships in Lenzerheide, Switzerland.
She finished in 1:34:55 and was followed by silver medalist Annika Langvad of Denmark in 1:35:42 and bronze medalist Emily Batty of Canada in 1:36:58.
The last American woman to win a mountain bike world title was two-time Olympian Alison Dunlap in 2001 in Vail, Colorado.
“Today was an incredibly special day. Racing in the national team kit in front of a spectacular Swiss crowd and, most importantly, in front of my friends and family made this moment really magical,” Courtney said in a USA Cycling press release.
“I knew I was coming into this race in good form and focused on just executing my plan. To come away with a gold medal and the rainbow stripes for Team USA and Specialized was beyond my wildest dreams. In particular, the support from USA Cycling together with my professional team has allowed me to race consistently in Europe and build experience as an international racer.”
This is Courtney’s first year on the senior circuit after winning silver at last year’s U23 world championships. She came into the race ranked ninth in the world and had finished in the top 10 in her last four races in what was already an impressive debut season.
Courtney has been one to watch since early on in her career; in 2012 she became the first American woman to win a mountain bike world cup in the junior category. After graduating high school in 2013, she rode for Stanford’s collegiate club team for two years before turning pro. During that time she won both the cross-country and short track collegiate national titles two years in a row. Courtney graduated in 2017 with a degree in human biology.
In Lenzerheide, the race came down to a late battle between Langvad and Courtney on a course that featured rock gardens, root sections and steep drops and climbs through the woods. Batty and world No. 1 Jolanda Neff were also up front, but it was Langvad who led for much of the race with Courtney hanging on to second place as the others chased.
Courtney had closed the gap to six seconds going into the last lap but was still in back with 3 kilometers remaining. When Langvad misplayed a section through the roots, Courtney seized her opportunity and pulled ahead for the victory.