Forget all the clichés about the farmer’s daughter.
There is nothing naive, nothing unsophisticated – and certainly nothing slow about Emily Batty, as a 23-year-old from Brooklin, Ont., stakes her claim to one of two seats available to Canadian women in Olympic mountain biking.
Batty brings diamonds and pearls – she wears both in competition – to the sport of mud and rocks and flat tires. She’s unapologetic about. Batty accepts the role of girlie-girl, she says with a perfect smile. It doesn’t conflict with the toughness she needs to show in a race.
“Everything that’s on me now would be on me in a race,” she says at her sponsor’s Trek Bikes shop. “I don’t see a race day as different from a day spent lounging in my pajamas. I’ll wear my engagement ring, and earrings, and my mom’s high school ring and her pearl necklace.” She didn’t mention the full makeup she wears in competition.
“People say I bring glamour to the sport. I don’t think of it that way. I’m a woman and a professional athlete. I bring my professionalism and personality as part of me and I compete at this level. A lot of people know me as the girl with the pearls.”
The look belies the ability. Batty is one of the world’s top women mountain bikers. She set out to make the Olympic squad in a race where women generally mature in their 30s, and in the first World Cup race of the season placed second, only four seconds away from the gold.
Catharine Pendrel, Canada’s world champion, has nailed down one of the two Olympic spots for a Canadian woman leaving second place as a battle ground for Batty and Canadian veteran Marie-Helene Premont, 35.
In the crucial first four World Cups this season Batty has been second, seventh, tenth and ninth. Premont has been twenty-first, fourteenth, ninth and fifth. In UCI cross country point totals Batty is eleventh, Premont eighteenth. Statistically speaking, Batty is likely to get the nod when the team is announced in two weeks.
The 4.6 km course at the London Games – with few steep declines – is suited to her power and speed strengths. It’s a course she has video taped with a helmet mounted camera and seen for four days over two years in different conditions.
“Typically, if you get eight laps around the circuit, you’ve usually got the course pretty well dialled in,” she says. “The last time we were on the track we had a rainy day then a sunny hot day. We got the variety of conditions and saw how the track rode with different tires and how rocks responded to them. We tried to get as much information in those two days as we could.
“It helped to have my coach (and fiancée Adam Morka, also a Trek rider) because there was an extra set of eyes to evaluate and memorize the course and see where the best places were to attack or feed (take nourishment),” she said. She is scared by nothing in her path she says. Batty stand 5-foot-2 and weighs 105 pounds, which means a light, strong bike is an ally. “I ride on a Trek bike, a 29er (29 inch wheels instead of 26), and that’s a huge revolution,” she said. Her protein is called Subaru-Trek. “All my components – brakes, crank, paddles and derailer – are SRAM (an acronym for company founders Scott, Ray and Sam) and the bike has a black box system which few other have. We get prototypes of parts a year or two in advance. I get new pieces on my bike every week.
“It’s a full carbon fibre bike and it weighs 18 pounds, which is extremely light for a 29er. Getting the weight down is important. Two pounds on a bike for a woman is like six pounds for a man.”
Cycling came naturally for Batty and her close-knit family. She follows the path of older brothers Eric, who was attracted to the sport by a neighbour who was a pro cyclist, and Mark, a fourth Batty sibling Charlotte, also raced as a junior.
“My dad grew up on the farm so he has always been athletic – he was a wrestler and a cross country runner. He was into everything. Genetics, I think, have a big role because both parents were very athletic,” Batty told the Canadian Cycling website.
“When Eric was 13, my parents said he could save up his money to buy hos first mountain bike. He started in local weekend series races, which turned into Ontario Cup, which turned into Canada Cup.
“Then the second oldest brother wanted to follow him and I followed after that. Our parents would take us travelling to races in a motor home.”