Olympics in Haley Batten’s path after Park City mountain biker takes second at World Cup in Nové Mesto

USA Cycling’s criteria for Tokyo suggests the 22-year-old qualified automatically, but no official announcement has been made.

(Photo courtesy of Jan Brychta /mtb-nmnm.cz) Park City native Haley Batten, 22, is coated in mud and elation Friday, May 14, 2021, as she celebrates her first World Cup mountain biking win as an elite in Nove Mesto, Czech Republic. Batten placed second in the long-course race Sunday, which should be enough to secure her a spot on the USA team at the Olympics in Tokyo.

How close is Haley Batten to being an Olympian? So close she can taste it, but not close enough to be able to say it.

Batten, who grew up in Park City, placed second in the women’s long-track World Cup mountain bike race in Nové Mesto, Czech Republic, on Sunday. According to the qualifying criteria laid out by USA Cycling, that performance should allow the 22-year-old to seize the second of three spots on the team bound for Tokyo this summer.

But USA Cycling so far has been mum on the topic, and Batten wasn’t going to jinx herself by celebrating too early in her post-race interview.

“That definitely lands me in the criteria,” she said, “so I’m pretty happy about that. But we’ll have to see.”

The Olympic team selection rules are very clear that if an American was to win the Nové Mesto race, she would be in. But the victory went to Loana Lecomte of France, who led from start to finish. The rules then say that any athlete who finishes second through eighth will automatically qualify as long as spots exist. The United States women are ranked among the top two teams in the world and, as such, would be able to send the maximum three athletes to Tokyo.

Kate Courtney of Kentfield, Calif., sewed up her spot back in 2019 when she placed in the top five at the UCI World Championships. That means two spots are up for grabs.

The question is, does that criterion kick in if an American didn’t win?

Realistically, for Batten, it’s likely just a matter of whether she can begin wrapping her head around the achievement now or has to wait until June 4, when the final team will be announced. If any open spots remain after this weekend, it will be up to a selection committee to fill them.

That will be the fate of fellow Park City mountain biker Keegan Swenson. He is one of two Americans vying for one spot to Tokyo, and neither finished in the top eight Sunday. Swenson finished 58th, while Christopher Blevins of Durango, Colo., placed 13th.

Though that process can often be convoluted, Batten has made a near-Teflon case for herself.

The criteria emphasize strong performances in international races, especially UCI championships and World Cups. It also looks at whether the rider is a “medal-capable athlete” or a “future medal-capable athlete” and who will have the “best predicted finish.”

Batten, who spent last year racing as a U23 athlete but is the top American in the UCI rankings, came out blazing in her elite-level debut last week at the World Cup opener in Albstadt, Germany, taking third. Less than a week later, she scored her first World Cup victory with Friday’s short-track win in Nové Mesto.

On Sunday, she scooped up the one medal she was missing by pushing past Australia’s Rebecca McConnell on the final lap of the long-course race. No other American finished in the top eight.

“I actually go to school in Squamish, B.C., in the winter, so it reminded me of that,” said Batten, who lives in Santa Cruz, Calif. “Just super-slick roots and I actually felt pretty strong on them, and I think I paced myself real well, so in the end I was able to avoid some big mistakes and ride super smooth.

“It’s all a blur. I just stayed within myself and rode the pace that I knew I needed to ride. And then I just put it all in on the last lap and am glad that I could land in the second spot.”

She probably meant the second spot in the race. But if she landed the second spot on the Olympic team, no doubt she’d be glad about that, too.

A replay of the women’s World Cup race can be found here.