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Interview: Kate Courtney

BEAUPRE, QC – AUGUST 31: Kate Courtney of the United States approaches the finish line in fifth place in the Women’s Elite Cross-country Olympic distance race at the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships at Mont-Sainte-Anne on August 31, 2019 in Beaupre, Canada. (Photo by Dustin Satloff/Getty Images)

Kate Courtney is a professional mountain bike racer. She is the 2019 Elite XCO World Cup Overall Champion, the current Pan American Champion, and the 2018 Elite XCO World Champion. Kate sat down with Just Women’s Sports to discuss the demands and rewards of being a world-class endurance athlete, as well as how she’s preparing for the 2020 Olympics. 

We’re only a couple months out from the Olympics. Now that you’ve qualified, how are you focused on getting prepared?

I am honored and excited to represent my country for the first time at the Olympic Games this summer in Tokyo. My goal was to qualify automatically and be able to focus my preparation towards this specific race. With my spot secured, it is full focus on being at my best when it counts most! As always that involves many hours on the bike, in the gym and working with my team to identify every possible opportunity to improve or gain an advantage with this specific course in mind.

Do you have specific performance goals for the Olympics?

Perform to the absolute best of my ability. Of course, I have outcome goals as well and bringing home a medal would be an incredible honor. But for now I am focused on the process of getting to that starting line ready to put down the best race performance possible.

For someone who isn’t familiar with cross country mountain biking, how would you describe it? 

It’s similar to middle-distance running, in that it’s short enough to be a full-out effort, yet long enough that it’s more of an endurance sport than a sprint. Our races are typically five or six laps around a 5km loop, which takes between an hour and twenty and an hour and thirty minutes. You’re going over a huge variety of terrain, so it’s equal parts endurance, technical skill, and racing tactics.

What does your training regimen look like throughout the year?

To be an endurance athlete, you have to put in the hours. There’s no way to shortcut the process. Outside of an annual five day break, I don’t take any time off, and most days I’m on my bike for anywhere between three to five and a half hours. A “down day” for me means going to the gym and riding for 45 minutes. To keep your fitness where it needs to be, there can’t be any lapses in your training.

How do you avoid burnout spending that much time on your bike? 

You have to maximize every aspect of your life to compete at the highest level, including your downtime. You have to train hard, but you also need to find ways to stay healthy, happy, and motivated. If I’m doing a long, endurance ride, I’ll listen to music or a podcast, or I’ll end my training with a trip to a bakery. If I know it’s a really scenic route, I’ll try to convince someone to come with me. On less intensive days, I might take an early break for lunch and get my nails done. I still put the work in, but I don’t torture myself. Then during more intensive days, when I’m trying to simulate a race, it’s all business. No music, no bakeries. I’m locked in and focused on rehearsing my race-day performance.

I’m also fortunate to have a really great team, and we’ve been working consistently in a way that I trust. Endurance athletes are most at peace when we know there’s nothing more we can do, and with my team, I’m never left asking if I have to do more. I also just train really, really hard. And I’m obsessed with improving. But for me, being a full-time athlete means learning to balance that intensity with rest.

What was it like being both a professional athlete and a full-time Stanford student? 

I won’t sell it short: it was incredibly challenging. It was ultimately a formative and positive experience, but it was easily the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. Not being an official student-athlete made it difficult, as the official university policy doesn’t provide academic accommodations for professional athletes. I had to create my own support structure and find ways to navigate the system on my own. Every quarter I would register for 25 units and then go to the classes on the first day and tell the professors, look, I’m going to be gone for three out of the next ten weeks. I’ll do whatever you need me to do to make up for it. I’ll write extra essays, I’ll read extra books. I have a lot of plane time. Can we make this work? And a lot of them said no. But enough said yes that I was still able to graduate in four years, even though I took time off during the last Olympic cycle.

How did not making the Olympics four years ago change your approach?

In 2016, I was arguably too young to go, but I had a long shot, so I decided to go for it. It was just too exciting to pass up, and I was definitely caught up with the idea of having this amazing experience, getting all the Nike gear and meeting all these athletes. By the end of qualifications, it was between me and another woman for a discretionary pick. Neither of us had automatically qualified, so USA Cycling had to pick. I was the younger racer, and they could have picked me as a way of giving me exposure, but they chose her.

I knew I hadn’t quite done what I needed to do, but I was still super disappointed. But with that disappointment came the realization that I really, really wanted to be an Olympian. I had told myself throughout the qualification that, “It’s a long shot, so I’ll just do my best and see what happens.” But then when I found out I wasn’t going, I just thought, “Wow. I worked really hard, and I really wanted to go.” And I knew right then that I didn’t want to just go to the Olympics because I had potential or because it would be a cool experience. I wanted to earn the right to be there. I wanted to go, compete, race my bike, and be a favorite for a medal.

In the last two years, you’ve won both a cross-country world title and the overall World Cup season. How do you account for so much success at such a young age? 

There are so many things that go into successful races, but they rest on a foundation of years and years of consistent work and progress. For me, the consistency in my progress has been critical to making those big wins possible, and it continues to motivate me to make steady improvement in the future.

Sofia Huerta signs contract extension with Seattle through 2027

(Daniel Bartel-USA TODAY Sports)

Former Oregon soccer players detail instances of verbal abuse from former USWNT assistant

(Chris Pietsch/The Register-Guard via Imagn Content Services)

Members of the Oregon women’s soccer team are saying they received harsh treatment and even verbal abuse from head coach and former USWNT assistant Graeme Abel. 

During the 2023 season, the team had zero wins, and upon its conclusion a total of 12 of the team’s 29 players departed the team. Former players told The Oregonian that Abel would verbally attack them, threaten to kick them off the team and at times would even throw objects.

"When I’d make a mistake at practice, it felt like he made it a job to embarrass you to the point where you just wanted to walk off the field,” one player said. “He’d stop the practice – and I know it’s college soccer, it’s very competitive — but he’d stop practice and just keep going nonstop on this one thing."

In total, the Oregonian spoke with 14 former players – including 12 who agreed to be interviewed in depth. All said that they experienced verbal abuse. Six of the players were among those who transferred following the season. 

One instance of Abel’s tirades included him throwing a water bottle that narrowly missed players’ heads. 

“He kicked all of our staff out of the locker room, kicked a trash can, threw a white board, sat on the trash can and started screaming,” one player recounted. “He wanted us to tell him what we thought went wrong in the game. Me and another player spoke up, and he said, ‘You’re just (expletive) wrong.’ And that if we didn’t want to be in this program, we could all quit, and he’d sign our release paperwork tomorrow.”

While Abel was not made available for an interview, he did say in a statement that “at no point have I used threatening statements or financial repercussions as a part of coaching.”

Instances of emotional distress stemming from Abel’s alleged harsh treatment date back to 2021 – his first full year leading the team following an abbreviated 2020 campaign.

Other former players contacted by The Oregonian detailed positive overall experiences, and described his style as “normal coaching.”

Others, like USWNT players Becky Sauerbrunn and Lindsey Horan, did not respond to requests for comment, although Sauerbrunn wrote in 2019 that she had a “great relationship” with Abel. 

Still, multiple players interviewed had similar stories, with one saying that girls would be “crying in the locker room” after practice because of what he would tell players. Attempts to speak with the administration about his behavior, players say, was “discouraging.”

“His office is like the scariest place,” one player said. “You’d have to sit there while he’d belittle you and say all these nasty things, and gaslight you into believing you’re not good enough. ... Our team fell apart because of the environment he created. We were just trying to get through the day. There was no way we could focus on soccer.”

Multiple players said they experienced suicidal ideation while playing at Oregon. In part of his statement, Abel wrote that “at no time do we put our student-athletes in any danger.”

Abel is currently in his fifth and final year of his contract at Oregon.

Gotham FC unveil Championship rings ahead of banner reveal

Gotham FC players celebrate Lynn Williams' goal in the first half of the 2023 NWSL Championship. (Ray Acevedo/USA TODAY Sports)

Gotham FC has unveiled their 2023 NWSL championship rings — and safe to say, they deliver.

The reveal has led to a little bit of trash talk ahead of the team’s matchup with Kansas City this weekend, as both teams have NFL owners. While the Current are co-owned by Patrick and Brittany Mahomes, former Giants quarterback Eli Manning is a co-owner of Gotham. 

On Wednesday, Manning took to Sportscenter to give Mahomes a bit of a hard time.

“He may have one more Super Bowl ring than me, but he does not have a NWSL championship ring like I do,” Manning joked.

“Come Sunday night at Red Bull Arena, April 14th, we’re dropping the banner on Kansas City. We got the ring ceremony, the players get their rings and their championship afterwards. This is it, I’ve got something to talk a little trash to him about because I can’t do it about football anymore, I gotta find something else.”

The appearance came after Manning posted to social media, inviting Mahomes to “come see [the championship ring] up close this Sunday.”

Mahomes responded in kind, writing that “we’ll see y’all Sunday!”

Gotham takes on current league-leaders Kansas City on Sunday at 6pm ET. The game is available on NWSL+.

Oregon State hit by transfer portal again as Raegan Beers departs

ALBANY, NEW YORK - MARCH 31: Raegan Beers #15 of the Oregon State Beavers shoots a free throw during the first half against the South Carolina Gamecocks in the Elite 8 round of the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament at MVP Arena on March 31, 2024 in Albany, New York. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Oregon State leading scorer and rebounder Raegan Beers announced on Thursday that she is entering the transfer portal. 

"Thank you for all of your endless love and support these past two years," she posted on social media. "I will never forget my time at OSU and I am thankful for the opportunity I had to meet and play with incredible people. My journey as a Beav was a special one and I am grateful for my teammates, coaches, fans, and friends who have changed my life throughout my time here."

A sophomore forward, Beers is a two-time All-Pac-12 selection who averaged 17.5 points per game last season while shooting 66.4 percent from the field. She also added 10.3 rebounds en route to earning third-team All-American honors from the AP. 

She’s the fourth Oregon State starter – and seventh player overall – to hit the portal this offseason. She joins Talia von Oelhoggen and Timea Gardiner in the transfer portal, as well as starting freshman Donovyn Hunter. 

Beers and Gardiner were both top-10 recruits in ESPN rankings coming out of high school. 

With the dissolution of the Pac-12, the program will join the WCC next season and no longer be a part of the Power 5.

Conference realignment is hitting the team hard, with coach Scott Rueck saying during the tournament that he knew it could seriously affect his team moving forward. 

"That's reality," Rueck said. "I can't control that, other than just keep doing what I'm doing. I think the opportunity within that for a leader provides a discipline that you'd better be on your A-game all the time. You'd better take care of people, and you'd better provide a great experience. That's the approach going forward and what happens, happens. We'll find a way."

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