Emma White is one of the top young cycling talents in the U.S. right now. Just this year, White won U23 U.S. Cyclocross Nationals in Reno and then captured the U23 titles in the time trial, criterium and road race at U.S. Road Nationals in Knoxville. She also podiumed in the overall in two of those races and finished fourth in the other.
Many young athletes have dreams of reaching the Olympics, but White is one of the select few with the talent and work ethic to make those dreams a reality. With cyclocross not part of the Olympics, White’s best route to achieve her Olympic dream has seemingly been the road race, but earlier this year, she learned she has another option for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
White attended the USA Cycling Track Talent ID camp in Colorado Springs in March, and her performance there caught the eye of USA Cycling Women’s Endurance Track head coach Gary Sutton and his team. With her performance, White now has a shot at making the U.S. Olympic Track team and perhaps getting a spot on the Team Pursuit juggernaut that has won the last three UCI World Championships.
Last week, White announced she will not be racing cyclocross this year to focus on her track training and studies at Union College in New York. USA Cycling took the time to set up a media call with White to discuss her decision. The call led to this Cyclocross Magazine interview with White about her decision.
Interview with Emma White About Training for 2020 Track Olympics
Cyclocross Magazine: Congratulations, first off.
Emma White: Thank you.
CXM: Was this a tough decision for you?
EW: Yeah, it wasn’t easy. I’ve been doing cyclocross since I started racing when I was nine years old, so it was really a family sport. We traveled to cyclocross races every weekend with my brothers and my parents. It wasn’t an easy decision. I felt like doing cyclocross was normal for me. I couldn’t really imagine myself doing anything else.
But when I went to the track camp, I realized my potential and that became kind of real. Every day I wake up and say, “This could be reality.” I couldn’t believe it at first, but after a couple of weeks talking to my coach Kristen [Armstrong] and Gary [Sutton], it kind of became real. It definitely wasn’t an overnight decision, but I am confident it’s the right one. For now anyway.
CXM: When was the camp and where was it?
EW: That was in March. It was a Talent ID camp. About 10 athletes went to Colorado Springs, stayed at the Olympic Training Center and then rode at the track every day. It was a really good opportunity to test out the track. It was actually the first time I had been on a track bike. I did some technique work. We got to spend some time with some of the current members of the team. Chloe Dygert-Owen and Jen Valente were there. It was cool to learn from them. There was also a Men’s team camp going on as well, so I got to really see what the track team does and really get immersed in the environment.
CXM: You’ve obviously been quite successful on the road. Did you have thoughts of trying to go for the Olympics on the road?
EW: I’m kind of an open book right now. I’m hoping to have more than one shot at the Olympics, whether it be 2020 or 2024. My coach, of course, had plenty of opportunities at the Olympics, and she’s my main influence. She’s a huge role model for me. Things will stay status quo on the road for me. I’m still working on my time trialing and sprinting, so that’s still a goal of mine.
CXM: When it comes to track racing, do you have an idea about what disciplines within track you are going to target, or are you open-minded at this point?
EW: I’m open-minded. I’ll be working with Gary Sutton, who is the coach. The Team Pursuit team is incredible, absolutely amazing. They have four really strong riders, as we’ve seen in the past. They’ve been world champions for the past couple years, and they took silver at the last Olympics. They have four riders right now. I think Gary’s trying to add a couple to that team. That would be a really cool opportunity. I love the athletes on that team. I get along really well with Chloe Dygert. We’ve raced against each other and together quite a few times in the last couple of years. That’s the goal right now.
CXM: Last year when we talked, you talked about getting the White family band together and traveling to races. With you missing this season, does that mean you’re going to be relocating to Colorado to train, or what does this look like for you from a training standpoint?
EW: Right now, number one on my list is school. I’m still a student at Union College. I’ll be in the Northeast at Union College for the whole season, except for competitions. Who knows, I might even be at a couple of ‘cross races cheering on the White family band. I’ll still be a part of it, I’ll just be a background dancer. *laughs*
There will be a couple of World Cups I’m hoping to be at in October, but mostly I’ll be in New York training.
CXM: We’ve seen how hard it can be to balance being a professional athlete and attending school, how do you think this will affect that balance?
EW: As my coach Kristen Armstrong has taught me, balance is the secret weapon. I think the balance really helps me. All I’ve really known is school and the road and cyclocross in the past. I don’t think it will change too much, although I think the track and the road might mesh together a little bit better. I like the difference between road and cyclocross. It kind of reset my mental perspective going into those seasons. I think track will really help me on the road side and vice versa. I think the balance will still stay the same.
CXM: When you got this opportunity, did you have thoughts of doing all three at the same time?
EW: You know, I did think about it. As soon as I got a second input, I realized that it would just be impossible. I wanted to. I thought that maybe I’d be able to. I never thought last season would be my last cyclocross season. I thought there might be a chance of trying out the track, but I figured I could keep doing all three until 2020.
Once I saw the schedule and talked with Kristen and Gary, I really had to make a choice. To be the best I can in track, I have to give it my all. It would be challenging to do all three. I think it would be fun. But I don’t think I’d be able to give 100 percent and be the best in any of the three if I tried to do all of them. I think I’d spread myself too thin.
CXM: You mentioned earlier about giving the Olympics several gos. Are you still leaving a return to cyclocross open as a possibility?
EW: As of right now, I am going one step at a time. Right now 2020 is the first thing on my to-do list. I would really love to be there, so I’m going to give it everything to try and make that team. But who knows? After that, I’m not really sure. I will be out of school by then, so whether or not I come to back to ’cross is kind of up in the air.
If I don’t return to race ’cross in the next 5 or 10 years, I will absolutely be in cyclocross when I’m older and maybe retired from it all. ’Cross is something I see myself doing forever and being a part of in some way. The New England cyclocross scene is just so special. Like I said, I’ll be at some races; I wouldn’t be able to stay away from them if I tried. I don’t know when I’ll be racing again, but I do know it’s not over forever.
I see cyclocross as something I want my kids doing when I’m older. I don’t see it going away.
CXM: So you’ll basically be the “cool mom,” who takes her kids to cyclocross races?
EW: I hope so.
CXM: Well, thank you. Kelly, thank you for putting this call together. To be honest, we’ll miss you this fall, but at the same time, we all want you to do well. I think we all recognize the incredible amount of talent you have, so good luck.
EW: Thank you.