(Connor recently won the gold medal in Rio in the 2016 Summer Olympics in BMX racing and is widely considered “the fastest man on the planet” in the BMX world).
Connor: I want to preface this by saying I have never ridden a motorcycle bigger than an 85cc. I have no idea what it is like going through whoops, and I barely even know how to shift out of first gear. What I do know is high level competition. I know what it feels like to be under the bright lights. I know what it feels like to have expectations, pressure, and a group of people relying on you to perform. I know what it feels like to succeed at the highest level of sport and I know what it feels like to completely fall apart at the highest level of sport. BMX racing is not motocross, and while there are many differences there are also many similarities. I believe this gives me a unique perspective and insight into what these riders go through.
Me: How does Eli bounce back from a tough fade to 5th? Eli is a guy who is known for having outstanding fitness, was this nerves or is his fitness in question?
Connor: Looking at Eli and him getting arm pump, I have to believe the symptom resulted from his mental state and not due to being unfit or unprepared. I have a hard time believing he showed up to A1 not in fantastic shape. He didn’t do too many offseason races and has been healthy all year. He was ready, prepared, and fit. After winning his heat race and knowing he had the speed to win, if he put it all out on the table, he may have got a bit anxious. It has been a long time since he lined up in a Supercross gate (minus Daytona) and realistically knew he had a very good chance to win. That is a tough position to be in for any athlete. Combined with being the main rider for the main series title sponsor in a contract year with anything short of a championship, a failure and….yikes. I can feel that pressure from here. What happens then when you are nervous and anxious? Your heart rate goes up and your muscles get tense. Eli did not show up unprepared. I think that first round nerves and anxiety are the only logical explanation for what we saw out of ET3 on the weekend. The other person who suffered from arm pump this weekend? Cooper Webb, who also had very good reason to be anxious.
With that said, Eli did a fantastic job of not losing too many points at A1. With 16 rounds left and only 9 points down, he is very much alive in this title chase. I believe Eli to be one of the fittest guys out there, and now he knows he has the speed and he has definitely improved his start. He will be more relaxed next week and I don’t think we will see this mistake happen again. I look for him to bounce back and land on the podium in San Diego. Don’t forget, Eli had the second fastest lap of the day.
Me: If you were Dungey, how would you respond to the brash attitude of Ken Roczen? Do you think Ken is going over the top or is he just confident?
Connor: In regards to Dungey I was actually very impressed with him and think the rest of the field should be on notice that the champ is not just going to give the title away. Ryan was fantastic in Anaheim and other than Roczen, was clearly the class of the field. If he is this good in round 1, you know the champ is only going to continue to get better. It is extremely likely that RD1 will land on 17 podiums this year, meaning if you want to take his title you will need to win… A LOT.
I don’t know if Ryan really cares about Ken’s brashness to be honest. I think Ryan has the incredible quality of being able to block everything out and just focus on himself. Ken can be “the McGregor” of SX/MX and it’s not going to change Ryan as a person or in his approach to racing. I don’t think anyone is capable of getting a rise out of Ryan. Ryan will continue to work hard, mind his own business, and do his thing. Ryan never gets too overexcited in victory or too down on himself in defeat. He remains in the same emotional range and that is what has allowed him to be so consistent. Being so even-keeled, mentally stable, and controlling his emotions so well off the track has led to him being one of the most consistent riders in the history of the sport on the track.
Is Ken being brash? Yes. Does everyone like it? No. Some people do, some don’t. What needs to be remembered is that sport is entertainment and Kenny is doing just that, he is entertaining. Look at the most successful MMA fighters, boxers, and football players. Guys like Tyson, McGregor, Mayweather, Ali, Deon Sanders…these guys entertained. You either wanted to see them win or you wanted to see them get smashed, either way you tuned in to watch. Ken is adding a spark to a group of politically correct riders who won’t say their true feelings publicly. As a rider, I wouldn’t do this because as soon as you’re not winning it can backfire, and I prefer to let my riding do the talking, but as a fan I absolutely love it.
Ken needs to make sure he doesn’t try to “make a statement” every weekend. Overriding leads to mistakes and if 95% of your best is enough to win, that’s all that needs to be on display.
Me: Was Mcelrath on your radar coming into A1? With this being his first win, will he be a title contender, and what would you tell him?
Connor: To be honest I did not have Shane McElrath on my radar to contend for the win in Anaheim. After practice when Jeremy Martin won by a full second I had penciled him in for the win. This is a great early season reminder that practice and racing are two completely different animals. McElrath rode flawlessly, and deserved the win. The question now is, where does he go from here? Does he show up at the test track Monday with the same intensity and hunger he had before winning? Or does he think he’s “made it” and is already a title contender. If he and the people around him handle his victory properly, enjoy it for a day then move on to business as usual, he will be in contention for the title, especially with Forkner dropping so many points in Anaheim.
Me: How do you feel about James Stewart announcing he will race this season? Would you advise him to retire? Does anyone have the right to tell a pro athlete when to quit?
Connor: James Stewart is not retiring and that is great news for any fan. Whether you like him or not there is no disputing his talent and it will be nice to see him line up in the gate. I don’t think anyone truly knows when it is time for an athlete to retire other than themselves. When an athlete can look in the mirror and honestly say, “I have given this sport everything I want to give it, and there is nothing left in the tank.” Then it is time for them to retire. Not everyone gets that fairy tale ending and often athletes are forced to retire due to losing contracts or from injury. For JS7 to be able to say “I’m not done yet” is a great thing for him personally. I hope he is able to put the finishing touches on his career and not feel like he left anything in the tank. Without factory equipment though, I don’t know if he will be much of a contender for anything other than longest autograph line and most haters.
This is my thoughts on the weekend. It has been fun for me to analyze the athlete’s unique personalities and circumstances rather than just looking at the statistics and the riding. Let me know your thoughts or any questions in the comments and you can follow me on Instagram/Twitter/Facebook @ConnorFields11