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Park City’s Keegan Swenson Has His Eyes on Olympic Dreams

Dave McElwaine


Park City mountain biker Keegan Swenson was named to Team USA’s Olympic mountain biking long team for next year’s Tokyo Games on June 11. With competition on hold this summer and the Olympics postponed due to COVID-19, Swenson has had some adjusting to do.


For anyone in Park City, there is no shortage of opportunities to get out on a mountain bike. Pro mountain biker Keegan Swenson was an active kid growing up in town and said his career may have looked pretty different if he didn’t call the trails in Park City home.


“Who knows what would have happened if I grew up somewhere else, you know?" he said. "I think my parents got me into mountain biking at a young age and I started off in the young riders program here in town and learned how to ride and how to race and just learned to really love riding and racing my bike. I think Park City has so many awesome trails and there are races close and there’s a lot of local sports for kids so I think it was an awesome place to grow up.” 


USA Cycling announced their selections for next summer’s Tokyo Olympics on June 11 and Swenson was selected for the mountain bike long team. Although a career-defining achievement for many athletes, Swenson said he sees the honor as just another stepping stone in his career.


“I think it was just, like, more or less, relief, you know?" he added. "Like, ‘alright, well, one step closer.’”


Swenson explained that being selected to the long team doesn’t actually guarantee himself a spot in Tokyo. The final starters for the mountain biking event will be chosen from the athletes on the long team so Swenson still has to perform well in the races leading up to the Games to secure his spot.


With no racing this summer, Swenson has had to find other ways to keep his competitive instincts sharp.


He said he prefers to train alone, but with mountain bike racing not slated to come back until August at the earliest, he has become more keen to ride with buddies in order to be in a race-like environment as much as possible.


“It hasn’t been too terrible," explained Swenson. "I’ve just been trying to find, like, some other goals and things to do. Even though it’s not even close to what we do, it’s still got a race mentality. You wake up and you’re like, ‘alright, we’re gonna do this today.’ Even if you don’t have racing, you still have to train. If you go back to racing next spring and you just didn’t train for a year and just kind of rode around on your bike, you’re almost going to be a year behind. You’ll never be able to catch back up so you kind of have to train as if you are racing.”


One such “train like you race” experience was when Swenson rode up and down Midway’s Pine Canyon 29 times on May 15 en route to breaking the world record for Everesting. Everesting is when a biker climbs the same amount of vertical feet as Mt. Everest in a single try.


“I kind of heard of it and I was like, ‘oh, that sounds hard and sounds kind of cool.’" he said. "I heard the record was eight and a half hours or something like that and I was like, ‘I think I can beat that.’”


Swenson climbed over 29,000 feet in seven hours and forty minutes. His record stood until June 13 when Australian pro rider Lachlan Morton finished eight minutes faster.


Swenson believes that what separates high-caliber riders like himself on such a grueling challenge has more to do with mental toughness rather than physical prowess.


“I think there are a lot of riders out there, physically, that are capable of setting a pretty fast time but I think you have to be, like, really tough mentally to do that," he said. "It’s so long and you’re just doing the same thing over and over so it’s kind of monotonous in that way. I think you just have to be able to suffer a long time and kind of enjoy it, you know? You have to love putting yourself in that kind of painful place and just hang on.”


Swenson said his competitive nature just might lead him to consider another go at reclaiming the record sometime this summer.

Sean Higgins covers all things Park City and is the Saturday Weekend Edition host at KPCW. Sean spent the first five years of his journalism career covering World Cup skiing for Ski Racing Media here in Utah and served as Senior Editor until January 2020. As Senior Editor, he managed the day-to-day news section of skiracing.com, as well as produced and hosted Ski Racing’s weekly podcast. During his tenure with Ski Racing Media, he was also a field reporter for NBC Sports, covering events in Europe.