Jill Kintner is a three-time world champion in mountain bike 4 Cross, an Olympic bronze medalist in BMX racing, and now a decorated downhill mountain biker. Of her 13 American national titles, three were earned in consecutive years in three different disciplines. Driven by a desire to deepen her skills on the bike and backed by dogged determination, Kintner has left the world's best competitors in her wake.
Growing up in Washington State, Kintner played soccer and tennis at an elite level, but bikes were always part of the picture, too.
"I was the only girl in our neighborhood and I would go on bike missions with the boys all the time," she remembers. By the time she turned eight, BMX racing had become an outlet for Kintner's competitiveness, and she pursued it voraciously.
She began winning consistently and started competing with the pros at just 14, going on to build an impressive BMX career while also studying fine art and graphic design in college. After earning both the NBL National Series elite title and ABA World Championship pro title in 2002, she began looking for a new challenge, a quest that would drive her throughout her cycling career.
"I reached the point in BMX where I didn't want to do it anymore," Kintner says. "I was lucky that I had options for other sports that played to my strengths. But I had to learn the hard way and figure it out. That made me a better athlete."
Jill jumped into the emerging sport of mountain bike 4 Cross (4X), a fast-moving sprint down a winding, varied course with four riders racing head-to-head. It wasn't long before she found her way to the top, taking her first national 4X title in her rookie year.
The wins piled up and she dominated the sport for years. Among her countless 4X podiums, Kintner collected three UCI World Championship titles, 15 World Cup wins, two World Cup overall titles, and four US National titles. She had successfully transitioned from BMX to mountain bikes, but a change was brewing on the sporting world's biggest stage, prompting an uncharacteristic move in Kintner's career.
She had left BMX behind, not only to expand her skills but also due to a frustrating lack of support. Even when it was announced that BMX racing would be added as a new Olympic sport in Beijing in 2008, Kintner had no interest in giving up mountain biking to tackle the points chase it would take to make the American BMX team.
It took some persuasion from former BMX and mountain bike pro Mike King, who had been named BMX Director for USA Cycling, for her to take up the cause for the red, white, and blue.
"I didn't want to come back to the sport the way I had left it – on my own," Kintner explains. "It takes a team of people to win a medal, and luckily Red Bull stepped in with a performance plan that gave me hope. Then USA Cycling added the use of the Olympic Training Center, the staff, and even built a replica track."
Although Kintner won her first race back, her return to BMX wasn't without incident. She suffered a torn ACL and meniscus in her knee in late 2007, and then re-injured the same knee again in 2008. Wearing a knee brace, she was still able to land the coveted spot on the US team and fought her way to a historic bronze medal in Beijing.
Kintner returned home and had surgery to get her knee reconstructed, prepping for her return to mountain biking. She pocketed another US National 4X title in 2009 and a couple of World Cup wins, but she wasn't enjoying the adventure as she once had.
"I was at a point where I either needed to quit or do something different to keep evolving as a bike rider," she says. "I needed to see something ahead of me, instead of maintaining a level I'd already proven."
She resumed her evolutionary ways in 2010, turning to downhill racing to stoke the fires. Accustomed to chasing the World Cup circuit across Europe, Kintner focused on North American races in 2010 while she found her downhill groove. It didn't take long – she captured the US National title in 2010, give her an unmatched run in US championships: BMX in 2008, 4X in 2009, and downhill in 2010.
But it wasn't an easy transition to downhill racing, she says. "There are so many new factors – the suspension, the technology, the varying terrain," Kintner says. "Plus it's a lot longer, so I needed more strength, fitness and endurance training."
In 2013, Kintner married Australian downhiller Bryn Atkinson, one of the top downhill mountain bikers in the world. The two support each other at races and are always looking out for one another.
With her mountain bike psych back at full burn, Kintner turned her attention back to the World Cup circuit in 2014, competing in both downhill and slalom disciplines. "I took a year to develop some skills and then I went for the World Cup, trying to go for podiums at select races," she says.
She's now a four-time USA Downhill champion, with downhill wins at Sea Otter Classic, Crankworx, Northwest Cup, and a dominating streak on the Pro Mountain Bike Gravity Tour. In 2014, she was ranked seventh overall on the World Cup circuit.
Often the lone American female at international races, Kintner coaches camps for women and is doing her part to help bring up the next generation of riders. "I want to help build the national series and make American racing more prominent worldwide," she says. "I'm hoping by me being there, other girls will see that I've had success and that will make an impact."
Although she’s eyeing her next move in cycling and some more creative projects outside of racing, she says downhill will always be her favourite.
"There's nothing like it. It's almost like you're not thinking, you're just reacting, just being in the moment," Kintner says. "Everyone searches for that feeling one way or another. I've found it on my bike. When you hit a turn and it's just pure and perfect – I could spend a lifetime doing that."Read more