Utah mountain biker Keegan Swenson reflects on missing out on Tokyo Games

Brendan Farrell
The Park Record
Keegan Swenson missed the cut for this year's Olympic mountain biking team. Just one spot was up for grabs, and it went Colorado's Christopher Blevins.
USA Cycling/Casey B. Gibson

PARK CITY, Utah — Heading into the June 10 announcement of the USA mountain bike team for this year’s Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Park City native Keegan Swenson figured his odds of making the team were that of a coin flip.

Calling it a “team” was misleading anyway, as there was only one spot on the men’s side for the U.S. The 38 spots in the field for the mountain biking event are split between 29 countries based on their nation’s rankings. The United States, sitting 12th in the Olympic rankings, could only send one rider.

The decision would ultimately come down to Swenson and Christopher Blevins of Durango. With neither rider placing high enough in international events to automatically qualify for the Olympics, the decision would be determined by USA Cycling’s discretionary selection criteria.

In June, Swenson was hoping to become the second Utah local mountain biker to qualify for the Olympics after Haley Batten earned one of three spots on the women’s side. Instead, the spot went to Blevins. Notably, Blevins finished 13th and 20th in the first two World Cup races this year, while Swenson ended the two races in 81st and 58th.

“Definitely a little bummed, but I gave it my best try,” Swenson said. “Gave it a good go but just didn’t put together the races I had to put together the last couple World Cups, and that’s the way it goes.”

The reality of not making the Olympics is a hard pill to swallow for many athletes. Four years of work can feel like it’s all for naught. At 27 years old, it might not be Swenson’s last shot at an Olympics appearance, but four years is a long time to wait.

While Swenson is disappointed to not have a ticket to Tokyo, it’s not as if his whole world has fallen apart, either.

“The Olympics isn’t the only thing,” he said. “Sure, it would be cool to go, but there’s still a lot of other things I want to do and achieve racing bikes. So it’s not the end-all, be-all.”

At the same time, he can’t wait to root for Batten from home. Batten, who is one of the youngest riders to make the Olympic team, made it to the podium on her first two World Cup races this year and then finished in 16th place in the third. As elite mountain bikers from the same area of the country, the two have become good friends.

“It’s super cool to see her perform, and I think she’s always been slowly getting better every day,” Swenson said. “I think she’s got a shot at a medal.”

Though Swenson and Blevins were racing against each other knowing that only one of them was going to make an Olympic dream a reality, the two managed to keep everything light. Swenson’s rival was also his friend for years. Swenson and Blevins tried their best to support each other and try to earn the U.S. a second spot but ultimately came up short.

“Even though only one of us could go, it definitely brought us to the highest level it could,” Swenson said.