Haley Batten celebrates third place in Cross-Country Olympic Women Elite race during UCI Mountain Bike World Cup on May 9, 2021 in Albstadt, Germany.
There’s something in the mud in Nove Mesto.
It was in the central Czech Republic town that American mountain biker Haley Batten earned her first world cup medal in 2019 while competing on the U-23 level, and on Friday she earned her first elite world cup win in the short-course race there.
Neither can compare to Sunday, though, when the 22-year-old from Park City, Utah, raced to a second-place finish in the elite cross-country race, and in doing so clinched a berth to this summer’s Olympic Games in Tokyo.
With fellow American Kate Courtney having already qualified for Tokyo, five other U.S. women had a chance to join her Sunday. They just had to be the top American and among the top eight finishers.
It turned out the surging Batten was the clear choice. France’s Loana Lecomte, the defending U-23 world champ, ran away with her second world cup win in as many weeks, while Batten overtook Australia’s Rebecca McConnell in the last lap to finish 1 minute 39 seconds back. Erin Huck was the next best American at 16th; Courtney crashed and had a flat tire en-route to finishing 41st.
Having picked up the sport at age 9 in the Utah skiing town where she grew up, Batten thrived on the plentiful local trails and by age 14 had won her first U.S. youth title. She’s really taken off as of late, however.
Last weekend Batten made her elite-level world cup debut in Albstadt, Germany, by earning a bronze medal, edging out Courtney for the final podium spot. Then she opened this week with her first elite world cup win, though it came in the non-Olympic short-course event. Only cross-country is included in the Olympic mountain bike program.
The top-ranked U.S. woman coming into Sunday at 16th, Batten is rapidly climbing the ladder at just the right time. American mountain bikers have medaled twice since the sport joined the Olympics in 1996, and most recently in 2012 when Georgia Gould won a bronze medal.
Courtney, the 2018 world champ, was the lone U.S. mountain biker to have qualified already, which she did by merit of finishing in the top five at the 2019 world championships. One additional U.S. woman is expected to qualify for the U.S., with two-time Olympian Lea Davison, Hannah Finchamp, Huck and 2016 Olympian Chloe Woodruff fighting for that spot.
Christopher Blevins and Keegan Swenson are battling for what’s expected to be a single U.S. men’s spot in the Tokyo Games, and they entered Nove Mesto with the same automatic qualification criteria as the women. However, neither hit that standard with Blevins leading the way in 20th.