Kate Courtney, world champion mountain biker, has an Olympic champion mentor: Reggie Miller

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U.S. mountain biker Kate Courtney likened her comeback to win the 2019 World Cup overall title to hitting a three-pointer in overtime of an NBA Finals game.

“A little stressful,” she said, “but, of course, one of the biggest highlights of my career.”

One of Courtney’s riding partners back home can relate: Basketball Hall of Famer (and Olympic gold medalist) Reggie Miller.

Anybody who follows the sharpshooting legend’s social media knows he found a hobby in retirement. Maybe more than that.

“Wannabe MTBer,” his Instagram bio reads. Attempts to reach Miller were unsuccessful, but he shed light in a Q&A with the mountain bike website mbaction.com that’s linked in his Twitter bio.

Miller mountain biked for the first time after moving to Malibu, Calif., in 2000. He was approached in a restaurant by Rage Against the Machine bassist Tim Commerford, who took him out on a ride with big-wave surfer Laird Hamilton and Bally Total Fitness founder Don Wildman.

“I was still playing for the Indiana Pacers at the time, so my fitness was good, but those guys left me in the dust,” Miller said, according to the report. “But being on those trails and in those hills got me hooked.”

It wasn’t until the Instagram era that Miller began racing mountain bikes. And that’s how Courtney, a fellow world champion and fellow Californian, believes she connected with him more than one year ago.

“But he also has been at a couple Southern California races,” she said, “and, of course, I knew the name.”

They rode together in Palm Springs in late 2018. They met up again last month at a Golden State Warriors game, where Miller was doing TV commentary for TNT.

Miller’s penchant for the sport is obvious in the Q&A, where he reeled off names of mountain bikers he admired. Miller said he wanted “the focus of a Kate Courtney.”

Courtney attributed her mental strength, the kind that made her a world champion at 22, partially to Miller’s mentoring.

“In the last couple of years as I started to really chase that top step of the podium, I’ve had a lot to learn from Reggie, and he’s been a great positive voice in terms of convincing me I can make it to the top,” she said. “And also, you know, helping you navigate the challenges of staying there.”

Miller may have benefited just as much from Courtney.

“Maybe, but let’s just say Reggie Miller is way better at mountain biking than I’ll ever be at basketball,” she said. “I think people underestimate how hard it would be for someone who’s been the absolute best in the world at something and maybe the greatest of all time in something to try something new that maybe they’re not exceptional at.”

Courtney was raised in Marin County, Calif., where mountain biking’s roots formed in the 1970s. She grew up at the base of Mount Tamalpais (“Mount Tam”), riding a tandem bike with her dad (but often times not pedaling herself) to get blueberry pancakes on Sunday mornings.

She played a variety of sports, but in high school began mountain biking seriously to cross train for cross-country running.

“Never looked back,” she said. “I certainly never ran again and fell in love with mountain biking.”

She competed for the national team while still in high school. Courtney turned professional, signing with Specialized, after two years at Stanford. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in human biology before winning that world title in 2018.

She was the youngest rider in the 67-woman field in Switzerland, and in her senior worlds debut. She became the first American to win a world title in 27 years. Her bike was put on display at the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame in Marin County.

“Kate has arrived and represents a new generation of American mountain bikers,” Scott Schnitzspahn, USA Cycling Vice President of Elite Athletics, said that day.

Any mountain biker is familiar with obstacles. Courtney suffered two concussions as a junior racer. The first one, about eight years ago, was worse and left her with symptoms for months.

Courtney, then 16, finished an impressive 10th in her international debut in a junior race in the Czech Republic. The next weekend, she crashed at the start, fell down a rock garden and DNFed for the first and, she said, so far only time in her career.

“The combination of having this race where I thought, man, I really could do this and having a race where I thought, oh wow, this is a huge challenge, was the perfect spark,” she said.

Courtney was a world U23 silver medalist with 122,000 Instagram followers when she arrived at the 2018 World Championships.

“My motto on the start line was, an underdog is just an underdog,” Courtney said, “until they show their teeth and you realize it’s a wolf.”

She passed passed 2016 World champion Annika Langvad of Denmark on the seventh and final lap in Lenzerheide, Switzerland, and won by 47 seconds in 1:34:55. She looked back several times after crossing the finish line in disbelief.

She earned the rainbow jersey — traditionally given to world champions across cycling disciplines. Courtney donned it on a ride for the first time on the Stelvio, an iconic Giro d’Italia climb.

“I had this kind of amazing moment where it all settled in,” Courtney remembered. “I ate gummy bears and cried and was just so excited to be able to wear this super special symbol that connects me to so many people in cycling.”

Courtney finished fifth in defense at last year’s worlds, but she gained a perhaps more prestigious title: World Cup overall champion for prowess over an entire season of racing. She goes into the Olympic year looking to earn the U.S.’ first gold medal in an event that debuted at the 1996 Atlanta Games.

Atlanta also marked Miller’s Olympics with that year’s Dream Team. Perhaps later this year they can again ride the Boo Hoff Trail, this time both as Olympic medalists.

“It’s exciting to see a kind of lifelong sport that unites so many different athletes,” Courtney said when asked about Miller’s mountain biking. “The fact that he doesn’t have an ego about that and it’s like, oh, I want to try this new thing, I want to learn it and does it publicly, is something I respect so much.

“I hope that I can do [that] in my career, although probably not with basketball, because I think it would be horrific for everyone involved.”

MORE: Athletes qualified for 2020 U.S. Olympic team

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Nothing like bikes and great friends to clear your mind. Can’t thank @kateplusfate enough for the unreal ride… We rode the Cove to Boo Hoff and I’ve NEVER seen anyone make it up Boo Hoff without hike a bike, people Kate rode it with ease like the Champ she is. Now me on the other hand, no shame in hiking, it’s a form of exercise 😳😂🤔.. Then we just had to find that damn Cove Lake, little did we know quicksand descents and quicksand gravel, but Ms SparkleWatts just floated over the quicksand, while my 190 pounds kept sinking, BUT WE MADE IT!!! Fantastic conversations with a fantastic person.. Now we have to get @bbcopeland aquatinted to desert life 😎😂😏… #SparkleWatts🌈 #BoombabyMeetsRainbowJersey

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2023 U.S. Figure Skating Championships scores, results

2023 U.S. Figure Skating Championships
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Full scores and results from the 2023 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in San Jose …

Pairs Short Program
1. Alexa Knierim/Brandon Frazier — 81.96
2. Emily Chan/Spencer Howe — 66.86
3. Ellie Kam/Danny O’Shea —- 65.75
4. Valentina Plazas/Maximiliano Fernandez — 63.45
5. Sonia Baram/Danil Tioumentsev —- 63.12
6. Katie McBeath/Nathan Bartholomay —- 56.96
7. Nica Digerness/Mark Sadusky — 50.72
8. Maria Mokhova/Ivan Mokhov —- 46.96
9. Grace Hanns / Danny Neudecker — 46.81
10. Linzy Fitzpatrick/Keyton Bearinger — 45.27
11. Nina Ouellette/Rique Newby-Estrella — 43.99

Rhythm Dance
1. Madison Chock/Evan Bates — 91.90
2. Caroline Green/Michael Parsons — 81.40
3. Emilea Zingas/Vadym Kolesnik — 78.18
4. Christina Carreira/Anthony Ponomarenko — 77.37
5. Lorraine McNamara/Anton Spiridonov — 76.23
6. Emily Bratti/Ian Somerville — 75.91
7. Eva Pate/Logan Bye — 75.52
8. Isabella Flores/Ivan Desyatov — 73.91
9. Oona Brown/Gage Brown — 72.80
10. Katarina Wolfkostin/Jeffrey Chen — 69.05
11. Angela Ling/Caleb Wein — 68.53
12. Leah Krauskopf/YuanShi Jin — 52.59
13. Cara Murphy/Joshua Levitt — 50.88
14. Caroline Depietri/TJ Carey — 48.28
WD. Raffaella Koncius/Alexey Shchepetov

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Broadcast Schedule | New Era for U.S.

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Knierim/Frazier, Chock/Bates lead U.S. Figure Skating Championships, age records in play

Alexa Knierim, Brandon Frazier
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At the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, teens will likely win the men’s and women’s events. The pre-event favorites in pairs and ice dance, and now leaders after day one, are all in their 30s.

World champions Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier easily took the largest pairs’ short program lead in nationals history in what may be their last U.S. Figure Skating Championships. Madison Chock and Evan Bates, eyeing their fourth U.S. title, put up the biggest gap in a U.S. short dance since its inception in 2011.

It’s believed that no pair or dance couple of skaters in their 30s has won a U.S. title in more than 50 years.

Knierim and Frazier, who last March became the first U.S. pair to win a world title since 1979, tallied 81.96 points to open the four-day nationals on Thursday.

They lead by 15.1 over Emily Chan and Spencer Howe going into Saturday’s free skate in San Jose, California, the largest first-day pairs’ gap since the Code of Points replaced the 6.0 scoring system in 2006.

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Full Scores | Broadcast Schedule

The top three pairs from last year’s event — which Knierim and Frazier missed due to him contracting COVID-19 — are no longer competing together. Knierim and Frazier had a clean skate, while Chan and Howe, who entered as silver medal favorites, counted a fall.

After nationals, a committee selects three U.S. pairs for March’s world championships in Japan.

Before the fall Grand Prix Series, the 31-year-old Knierim said this will probably be their last season competing together, though the pair also thought they were done last spring. They don’t expect to make a final decision until after a Stars on Ice tour this spring.

“I don’t like to just put it out there and say it is the last or not going to be the last because life just has that way of throwing curveballs, and you just never know,” Frazier said this month. “But I would say that this is the first nationals where I’m going to go in really trying to soak up every second as if it is my last because you just don’t know.”

Knierim is going for a fifth U.S. title, which would tie the record for a pairs’ skater since World War II, joining Kyoka Ina, Tai Babilonia, Randy Gardner, Karol Kennedy and Peter Kennedy. Knierim’s first three titles, and her first Olympics in 2018, were with husband Chris, who retired in 2020.

Knierim is also trying to become the first female pairs’ skater in her 30s to win a national title since 1993. Knierim and Chock are trying to become the first female skaters in their 30s to win a U.S. title in any discipline since 1995.

After being unable to defend their 2021 U.S. title last year, Knierim and Frazier reeled off a series of historic results in what had long been the country’s weakest discipline.

They successfully petitioned for an Olympic spot and placed sixth at the Games, best for a U.S. pair since 2002. They considered retirement after their world title, which was won without the top five teams from the Olympics in attendance. They returned in part to compete as world champions and to give back to U.S. skating, helping set up younger pairs for success.

They became the first U.S. pair to win two Grand Prix Series events, then in December became the first U.S. pair to make a Grand Prix Final podium (second place). The world’s top pairs were absent; Russians banned due to the war in Ukraine and Olympic champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong from China leaving competition ice (for now).

Knierim and Frazier’s real test isn’t nationals. It’s worlds, where they will likely be the underdog to home favorites Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara, who edged the Americans by 1.3 points in the closest Grand Prix Final pairs’ competition in 12 years.

Like Knierim and Frazier, Chock and Bates delivered as overwhelming favorites in Thursday’s rhythm dance.

The defending champions tallied 91.90 points, distancing Caroline Green and Michael Parsons, who scored 81.40, going into Saturday’s free dance.

“Freedom and joy came through right from the start of the program,” Chock said on USA Network. “There was no holding back.”

Last year’s silver and bronze medalists aren’t in the field: Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue retired after winning Olympic bronze, while Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker withdrew last week, citing mental health.

So Chock, 30, and Bates, 33, are almost certain to make the podium for an 11th consecutive year, which would be one shy of the record for any discipline, and lead the three couples picked for March’s worlds.

“We just want to earn it,” Bates said. “Just because we’ve been around longer than most doesn’t necessarily dictate the results.”

Bates, who last year became the oldest U.S. champion in any discipline in decades, has made 12 career senior nationals podiums with Chock and former partner Emily Samuelson. It is believed that a 13th finish in the top three would break the U.S. record for a single discipline he currently shares with Michelle KwanNathaniel Niles and Theresa Weld Blanchard.

But Chock and Bates’ sights are set on a place they’ve never been — the top step of a world championships podium. They earned silver or bronze a total of three times, including a bronze last year. The gold and silver medalists aren’t competing this season.

However, Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier relegated the Americans to silver at December’s Grand Prix Final.

“If we don’t win gold at worlds, we’ll be disappointed,” Bates, whose first senior nationals in 2008 came when this year’s women’s singles favorite, Isabeau Levito, was 10 months old, said earlier this month. “We’ve set the goal for ourselves in the past and haven’t met it yet.”

Nationals continue later Thursday with the women’s short.

NBC Sports’ Sarah Hughes (not the figure skater) contributed to this report.

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