Third Centennial Speaker Series: Staying Positive When the Olympics are Postponed

On Wednesday, May 20, we welcomed back Distinguished Alumnus Jonny Moseley ‘93 for a discussion with Kate Courtney ‘13 about life as a (very successful) professional mountain bike racer and a U.S. Olympic medal contender, and how she has made peace—and found hope—in a pandemic-disrupted season. 

Given the current absence of professional sports, it was a refreshing and fun conversation that reminded us all of the pure thrill of competition! Jonny started the conversation by sharing a clip of the final moments of Kate’s 2018 World Championship win – it’s footage that immediately brings you into the excitement of Kate’s stunning rise to world preeminence over the past couple of years.

Jonny and Kate talked about where it all began – biking with her Dad in the Marin hills around her house. Kate described her dad as someone who “loved being outdoors, skiing, riding his bike...he wanted to be able to do those things with his kids and for me it was an opportunity to do something with my dad.”

It wasn’t until she was running on Branson’s cross country team and looking for a way to cross-train that she joined Branson’s mountain biking team. She recalled that after her very first mountain bike race with Branson (which she won), she was hooked; she told her mom “I’m never running again.”

As Jonny pointed out, Kate has a history of being the underdog and coming out on top. In light of this, Jonny asked Kate what she views as her competitive advantage.

“Consistency. For the past 10 years, I’ve had similar changes in my power numbers every single year. I’ve gotten better by almost the same amount. And what separates you at the top level is that you have the ability to get better. The advantage has been using data, training consistently, having a great team around me, and just working at it consistently. And part of that is that I picked a really fun sport – I love riding my bike, you don’t have to twist my arm to do it. And I think when you commit to that over a long period of time, those little advancements make big changes.”

While Jonny and Kate also discussed the pressure that comes with success, Kate felt “there’s no one on my team that can make me want to win more than I already do myself.” After so many wins in the last couple years, Kate has learned to turn that outside pressure into fuel and to trust her process. Ultimately she says, it’s about “giving yourself the chance.” 

Jonny and Kate also discussed the continued stress of COVID-19 for an athlete and its particular implications for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Kate’s dreams of a 2020 medal. 

While Kate emphasized the enormous impact this pandemic has had on everyone and her gratitude for having food on the table, she also acknowledged that it was important for her to “let herself grieve” the postponement of the Olympics. It was not easy to accept that it would be another year before she could compete. After her “wallow week,” as she put it, she gave herself a deadline and said “on Monday, we go back to work.”

As Jonny brought up, the delay in the Olympics came at a time of peak performance for Kate – she would be entering the 2020 landscape as a frontrunner. As he postured whether another year might be disruptive or potentially damaging for her, Kate stayed true to her ever-positive, always-determined attitude, “The idea that I could be a better athlete—and a more resilient person—when I line up in Tokyo next year, that’s really exciting to me.” 

Missed the event? Watch the full conversation here