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Q&A: Emma White talks 2020 Olympics, Hot Tubes, and Kelly Catlin

The 22-year-old talks about the influence of Kelly Catlin and the possibility that she will fill her old friend's shoes in the Olympic Team Pursuit.

Emma White (Rally-UHC) turned 22 on Friday and celebrated another year of life with friends in Avon, Colorado, riding the second stage of the Colorado Classic.

Last year she rode with teammate Kelly Catlin. In March 2019, Catlin took her own life at 23 years of age. During their three years as teammates, the bubbly Taylor Swift-loving blonde grew close with Catlin. They spent last summer traveling and racing around Europe, often rooming together. Both students, balancing academia and cycling, took study breaks together and geeked out on their shared field of study: computational science.

White talked with VeloNews about Catlin, “the timekeeper,” and her influence on White’s career.

VN: How did Catlin take you under her wing when you joined the U.S. Track Cycling Team?

EW: During our first team camp just before the World Cup, I remember being on the track with three other girls in rainbow jerseys. I felt in over my head. After my first time out, I came back in and was kinda shakey. Kelly walked up to me and said, “You’re doing great,” and walked away. She was soft-spoken and didn’t say a lot. So you knew when she said something to you, she meant it. I knew her better than anyone else on the track team.

VN: In what ways do you miss Catlin’s presence?

EW: She was always encouraging me. It was a bit ironic, but she was big into saying, “This is just a bike race. Don’t stress. You’re fine,” consistently throughout the season. She was also our timekeeper. She would always time our recovery. She was very punctual.

VN: Catlin’s suicide is partially attributed to a concussion that resulted from her crash last fall. Do you think the cycling world is going to take concussions more seriously?

EW: Yes, we’ve already seen more [protocols] implemented on our team and the Olympic Training Center definitely takes them very seriously. But there was a lot more going on than her concussion. Her personality was very driven and calculated. She wouldn’t do something on a whim because she had a headache.

VN: With Catlin a member of the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Pursuit, the U.S. won silver. Some say you might take Catlin’s spot in 2020. Those are big shoes to fill. What are your goals for 2020 Olympics?

EW: I’m training for a spot on the Team Pursuit, which has its eyes on Gold at the Olympics. There are quite a few strong riders vying for a spot on the team including three of the riders from the 2018 World Championship team. I also have my sights on the Olympic road race. It’s a long shot for me, but never say never.

Kelly Catlin
Kelly Catlin (second from left) on the Rio Olympics podium with her teammates after winning silver in the team pursuit. Photo: Tim De Waele | Getty Images

VN: You started cycling when you were ten years old and went professional when you were 18. In addition to Catlin’s recent influence on your cycling career, who or what else has played a big role?

EW: I was on a junior boys’ development team called Hot Tubes. It made me the cyclist and person I am today. I wasn’t given the opportunity to race with the boys’ team, so I had to learn how to stand on my own. Training with them made me gritty and aggressive—not in the physical sense, but with myself.

VN: There are a lot of little girls watching you race the Colorado Classic. Can you relate?

EW: Of course, that was me! I had stars in my eyes wanting to be like Kristen Armstrong, now my coach. I grew up with a junior race series and I think there needs to be more of those opportunities for little girls.