Emily Benham Kvåle: MTBO legend announces her retirement

Ten world titles, plus 9 silver and 3 bronze medals in world MTBO championships – that is the amazing record set by the Norway-based British athlete Emily Benham Kvåle since her first world championship ride way back in 2007. Now she has announced that the recent World Championships is her last.

That race in 2007, just as her last four races last week, was in Czechia; at the age of eighteen she competed for GBR in the Middle race and finished 35th, 10.50 down on the winner but the best of a 4-strong British team. “At that time I had the goal of winning a Junior World Championships gold,” she says, “but it never happened. It was a hard lesson: just because I dreamt it, trained for it and was a young talent, it didn’t mean I would win or even take a medal.”

“I learnt to prepare for races properly”

Some years later she was ready to stop after increasingly poor results, but came into prominence in 2012 in Hungary where she won silver in the WMTBOC Sprint. “Meeting Hans Jørgen Kvåle changed everything! I learnt to prepare for races properly,” she says. One year later in Estonia it was silver again, this time in Middle, coupled with her first gold medal in the European Championships in Poland.

The first World Championship gold medals came in Portugal in 2016, where she won both Sprint and Long; here she also took home a silver medal from the Middle. In 2017 she came away from Lithuania with Long and Mass Start golds plus a silver and bronze. Then in 2018 a break, for the birth of her first child.

Emily Benham Kvåle in the kind of terrain she loves    Photos: WMTBOC 2023

2019 – the peak of her career

She returned, with a 7-month-old baby, to hit the peak of her illustrious MTBO career at the WMTBOC in Denmark in 2019 where she won gold in all four individual races – Sprint, Middle, Long and Mass Start – with perfect races, a fantastic achievement.

“After 2019, I set myself the goal of taking 10 golds by 2021, but first the Covid pandemic got in the way, and then I decided to have a second child,” continues Emily. She came back for WMTBOC in Sweden last year; Long Distance gold was the highlight of that week, plus a silver in Mass Start. “I left feeling unsatisfied, and I couldn’t stop with such a bad feeling,” she remarks.

One last fling

So this year at age 34 she decided to have one last fling, and do all she could to go out on a high. And what an outcome! Gold in Middle, plus silver in Sprint, Long and Mass Start in the hard Czech terrain. The goal of 10 golds achieved! Emily has also won three European titles, five full-season World Cup titles and 12 World Cup races: by a big margin, she is the world’s all-time-best female MTBO athlete.

Emily with her 10th gold medal. To left, Nikoline Splittorff DEN, to right Martina Tichovska CZE

In her final race, the Mass Start last Friday, she found herself at the end in a sprint finish with the Czech rider Martina Tichovska, 3 years older than Emily and who also took part in that first WMTBOC race for Emily in 2007; they have competed against each other many times, with many close results!

So what of the future?

Emily has a busy life away from MTBO: a mother of two, having part-time work, helping run a play-group and coaching in her local bike club. But she has plans for much more: “Hopefully I can do an event advisor course and have involvement in major MTBO events. I’d love to bring a WMTBOC to Norway! We have some incredible forests with a very dense and complex track network. I’d also like to become a commissaire for the Norwegian Cycling Federation to maintain involvement in mountain biking. I still feel there are cross-country races I want to do, and some longer distance events. This year I’ve found a huge freedom and mental release when I ride and race, daring to try a road race and delve into other disciplines. It’s been a year without pressure and really a lot of fun, so I’m not keen to lose that!”

“Then I have a small family to chase (not least, learning to keep up with the others on alpine skis in the winter!), mapping for FootO and MTBO which I love, and a potential new degree as a kindergarten teacher. Plenty to keep busy with!”

Thank you, Emily!

Joy and enthusiasm for her sports and the beautiful and challenging terrain they use are always to the forefront with Emily, and it seems clear we haven’t seen the last of her in MTBO, even though there will be no more appearances on the top of the WMTBOC podium.

Thank you, Emily, for all the enjoyment and commitment you have brought to MTBO, and we do look forward to seeing you in different guises in the future.