Why is Kate Courtney not already a superstar?

This is a totally out of character post whose axis is along the pro racing lines, but it's something I keep wondering about so here goes.

Kate Courtney won the UCI Cross Country Worlds last weekend. That link <- goes to the UCI site. Because except for a Velonews Q&A (and they've covered it, but they must not be getting enough clicks because the stories come down quickly) with her, none of the sites I normally read have anything prominent about it. There are a lot of sites I don't read and maybe they are lighting it up but a 2 second Google search didn't show anything remarkable. 

(picture stolen from katecourtney.com)

When Lance Armstrong was all the rage, a bunch of sorta-but-not-very cycling aware friends asked me why all the fuss, and why was he allowed to get away with what he did. My answer was always "he's a good looking guy with a seemingly All American story, he's got a name that DC Comics couldn't improve for a superhero's alter ego, who's showcasing a sport that's underperformed in the US at a time when probably the world's most valuable demographic (US baby boomers) is most likely to want to try cycling, and he's bringing Nike and Oakley money into the sport, so if you were the UCI it would be awfully hard not to protect that golden goose." And for what it's worth I think the UCI was COMPLETELY complicit in his deal, but that's neither here nor there for this. 

So screen that against Kate Courtney. She's a good looking woman with an All American story with a name that DC Comics couldn't improve on for a superhero's alter ego, who's showcasing a knobby-tired segment of the sport when riding off road is all the rage, she's got the Red Bull sponsorship, and she's won the Worlds after a long period when US women have been quite good in the sport, but never quite at the top. It's surprising to me that that's not more of a winning recipe. 

She wrote an article a while ago in CyclingTips about body image, nutrition, and performance not long ago (and I should mention that it seems the media has done a creditable job of showing her story, but modern media is awfully responsive to clicks), and it was good. Compelling personal story with useful usable info. The comments made me want to puke. One guy butts in about how a Red Bull sponsorship kind of negates the whole thing, another guy chimes in with "back when I was racing this might have been useful but now I'm old and I don't train and this doesn't apply to me." Let me call the f-ing whambulance for you guys. Would you respond the same way to an article written by a dude? Do you have any idea how big of an issue this is for female athletes? In my "spare time" (I don't sleep) I coach the URI sailing team, a sport which is equally as weight sensitive as cycling, and we do backflips trying to find a happy place between helping athletes manage that fact and not spiraling into the problem zone. It's a big f-ing deal. But no, we have to hear about some guy fighting his middle age spread is more expert than a woman who at the time was well along her path to becoming a world champion, who has an amazing array of world class resources helping her with this stuff. 

She's smart (Stanford grad), she's hot, she'd spank pretty much anyone reading this on a bike (and my "pretty much anyone" I mean "anyone"), and she's a world champ. Can dudes just not handle that? Is she too threatening? Does an apparently comfortable and supportive upbringing not speak to enough struggle and overcoming in her story?

But there's also that if she was a he, I don't think it would be a big story either. Probably bigger, and with less of the annoying fake male expert BS, but still not big. Mountain bike racing isn't a big story, even if it's way better watching than road racing (only cross is as good a watch), and the whole light and heat in the sport right now is around "not road" riding. We sell somewhat more mountain bike related stuff now than we have, but I think some of that is down to a really awesome product that we've not had before. 

Maybe if she wins the Olympics the story will blow up? Maybe she needs to win more stuff over a longer time frame (this was, after all, the present peak of what's been a really fast rise in the sport). I don't know, on the one hand, mountain biking isn't a huge venue and I get that. On the other, this is a big deal, and Kate seemingly has the perfect storm of ingredients to bring some excitement and attention to mountain biking. 

Enjoy your day. 

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Mic dropped!!

Scott Booth

I was just reading about her, I think VeloNews. Two week later she’s World Champ! Thank you for bringing this up. She rocks!

Steve Dodge

Dave ~ SPOT ON! in the current language of our current president.. this is a HUGE deal. Not to be ignored but embraced by all athletes.


Hey Dave,

Well written and well put. While I don’t personally follow MTB much, your Blog is spot on. She seems to be a rock star without any rock star treatment. I am glad you spoke up. She deserves a lot of attention and press. Tom

Thomas Kern

It’s because of LA that many in the US feel jaded with competitive sports on two wheels. I’ve been pushing the Courtney thing under my daughters’ noses – one of whom mtb’s – and I think they’re impressed. But yeah, sexism.

Alex C

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