Emily Batty has climbed the World Cup top-five podium 14 times in her career, including three times in the last few weeks. But she’s never stood on the top step.
The 30-year-old from Brooklin, Ont., will take aim at gold again this weekend at Mont-Sainte-Anne, Que., the lone Canadian stop on the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup tour (watch live on CBCSports.ca starting Friday at 5:20 p.m. ET).
If gold is in her future, it will take a long and gruelling climb to get there.
“It’s taken the most hardship and unique approach to getting to realize that I can be there,” Batty said.
Batty broke her collarbone in an untimely training crash a couple of days before she raced at the 2012 London Olympics, finishing a heartbreaking 24th. Four years later in Rio, she crossed the line just two seconds out of a medal. Both disappointments sent her spiralling into a deep depression.
“I’ve learned so much, I’m an athlete but I’m more human than I think people realize, going through a severe depression actually, quite dark for awhile,” she said. “I almost get emotional talking about it. I am still healing.”
The broken collarbone was a shock for an athlete who was born and raised on a cattle farm and was “anything but a fragile girl.”
“That is now six years later and I’m still pretty emotionally wrapped up in that one because it was so traumatizing for me,” she said.
The Rio Games came a year after Batty had led Canadian veteran Catharine Pendrel in a 1-2 finish at the Pan American Games in Toronto. In Rio, Pendrel crossed third, just ahead of Batty. To come so close was devastating.
“You turn it up so much for an Olympics year, for me it’s a form of isolation, I have to go to a training camp, I have to not see anyone, not do anything, I’m not even a normal person, I just eat, sleep, train, repeat,” she said. “So for me I devoted so much into it and then coming up two seconds short, the average person would still say ‘You were fourth!’ but what it took to be there and to get that fourth and to come up short of a medal, it definitely sent me into a downward spiral for I’d say seven, eight months.”
Batty has worked with sports psychologist Kristin Keim since Rio.
“I knew I was deep enough that I needed some professional help and guidance just to kind of bring the spark back and start over,” Batty said. “Do I want to say I’m still depressed? No, I’ve definitely overcome all of that. But the fact is that motivation is an emotion, you do have to ride the wave of being an athlete, it’s not gloriously glamourous like people perceive all the time, that’s for sure.”
Batty, who’s coached by husband Adam Morka, heads to Mont-Sainte-Anne on a competitive high after three consecutive World Cup podium finishes — a silver in Italy, fourth-place finish in the Czech Republic and fifth in Andorra.
She’s a fan of the Mont-Sainte-Anne course. The oldest course on the World Cup tour is famous for its natural technical elements like root and rock gardens. It’s also the site for the 2019 world championships.
Olympic gold in Tokyo in two years is also at the top of Batty’s list of goals, but in a sport that sees women peak in well into their 30s, Japan won’t be Batty’s final shot at the top of the Games podium. Pendrel is 37, while Norway’s Gunn-Rita Dahle, the winner last month at Andorra, is 45.
“I just turned 30 a month ago, so I can be in this sport for as long as I want it seems, that’s how this sport is, it’s not driven by age,” said Batty, who races Sunday. “Tokyo is just around the corner, and will I be ready to retire in two years? Hell no.
“I’ve proved to myself that I know I have what it takes, I’m not going just for a medal, I’m going for a gold medal. And it’s taken that injury 46 hours before the (2012) Games, and it’s taken coming two seconds short of a medal (in 2016). So yeah, absolutely Tokyo is on the list. But that’s not the end, that’s for sure.”