BMX Olympic champion Connor Fields: "Allow yourself to feel bummed out"
BMX racing Olympic champion Connor Fields says despite what it seems, he's no adrenaline junkie.
That's perhaps surprising for someone who rides a small bicycle around a twisting track at high speeds for a living.
Speaking to the Olympic Channel from his home in Las Vegas, Fields asserts that competing in a sport seen by some as dangerous comes naturally to him. "I don't view myself as a daredevil; I look at it all as calculated risk," he says.
The 27-year-old is the subject of the latest episode of the Olympic Channel original series Anatomy Of, in which the best sportspeople from around the world are tested in a laboratory setting to explain the science behind what makes them so good at their sport.
However, Fields claims his test results in the episode were affected because he was ill on the day of filming. "I had to do a test and then take a few minutes and lay down and take a nap and then do a test and take a few minutes. I was a little bit bummed because I don't think it was my (real) numbers. I think I could have actually been better if I was not sick."
Coronavirus has thrown Fields' plans off kilter – he had been planning to get married this year after the Olympics. But it has also given him an experience he never thought he would get to live.
In the interview below, which has been edited for length and clarity, Fields also discusses different aspects of his sport.
Anatomy of a BMX Racer: Is Connor Fields the Supreme Athlete?
Anatomy of a BMX Racer: Is Connor Fields the Supreme Athlete?Watch the outstanding sports science lab results of Connor Fields and find out what makes the first American to win an Olympic BMX gold special.With the help of fellow Olympian Lolo Jones, each episode of our sports science original series Anatomy of studies the powers and physiques of an elite athlete to find out what makes them special in their sport.
Olympic Channel (OC): Have you been able to ride much during the lockdown? You managed to ride around Las Vegas, didn't you?
Connor Fields (CF): Yeah, that was crazy. I've lived in Las Vegas since I was four years old, and the one thing about the Las Vegas Strip is that usually no matter when you go, no matter what time of day, what what time of year, there's always thousands and thousands of people everywhere. You can go at 3 am in the morning, or you can go at 3 pm in the afternoon and there's people everywhere. So it was really weird to go down there and see it completely empty. It was a fun place to ride a bike around. You know, that's something that you'll never get to do again, hopefully. But it almost felt like one of those things from a movie. You know, like the end of the world did they show like the empty cities and stuff? And it kind of felt like that.
OC: You were planning to get married this year, how has the pandemic affected you personally?
CF: I tend to plan everything around the Olympics, right. I was going to do the Olympics in July and August, and then after that I was going to take a break, I was going to get married in October. I was going to go on my honeymoon, meant to be finishing college at the end of this year…
I was going to take some time and think about what was best. But obviously that's all changed now. We're hoping we can still get married, but we don't know for sure. It's just going to come down to whether the rules say that we can have that many people or not. And then obviously, I don't want to be able to do a honeymoon because all the events that have been cancelled and postponed, they might be going on at that time. So I might be at my wedding one weekend and at the race the next weekend. So we'll see what happens with that.
OC: How how big a role does sports psychology play in BMX?
CF: I think in all sports, sports psychology is huge, right, I think at the top level of all sports, everybody is so close physically and a lot of it just comes down to who can get that extra little bit on race day that they can step up. You know, and on top of that, when you start thinking about the task of the Olympics and knowing, hey, this is a race that happens every four years, if you if you don't do this right, you may never get another chance at it. You know, you can set your your trajectory of your future completely on a different direction if you were to win this race. And just being able to kind of like take that all in and not let it overwhelm me is not an easy task. It's a difficult thing to do. So I think strategy, whether it's working with a sports psychologist or just having a having a good mental game, I think is really important.
OC: So on that note, working with sports psychologists that closely must have helped when coronavirus hit and everyone suddenly found themselves cooped up at home for like three weeks or four weeks at a time.
CF: For sure. Just finding out, you know, new strategies and new ways to kind of stay productive and that. One thing I learnt from my sports psychologist is like, allow yourself to feel bummed out. You know, don't try to fight it because eventually it's going to come, you know? And so for me, obviously, I wasn't worried about the Olympics being next year, this year. I mean, I've been racing professionally for 10 years, so I'll re-adjust my training and get back at it. But it's more I was bummed out about the wedding and maybe not getting a honeymoon. You know, maybe I get to have my wedding, but my friends from overseas can't come because of travel restrictions. All the little things like that I was a bit more bummed out about ultimately than the Olympics, because from the Olympic perspective, it's just one of those things where it's like this is the new challenge. OK, let's figure out how to do it. It's a little bit harder to look at life that way.
OC: Having been racing for so long, what have you found is the best thing about being a star in your sport?
CF: I guess one thing that's really cool about being a top pro BMXer is that so many people from all walks of life around the world rode BMX as a kid. I can't tell you how many conversations I've had with people when they say, 'oh, you're an athlete, what sport'? And I say I race BMX, and their reply is 'I used to ride BMX when I was a kid!', you know? And it seems like so many kids in the 70s and the 80s and 90s had BMX bikes, whether they raced or whether they just rode in the street or built jumps in the dirt lots, whatever it was, it's cool because it's a sport that everybody kind of… it's a big sport in terms of people who know what it is and they respect it because they've done it and they know how difficult it is. That's really cool.
OC: How would you describe yourself? Do words like 'daredevil' or 'adrenaline junkie' apply to all BMX riders?
CF: It's funny, I wouldn't consider myself much of a daredevil in any other walk of my life. I look at it all as calculated risk. Right. You've got to remember that I've been doing this for 20 years, and this is me jumping a 40 foot jump on a bike, you know, is literally as easy as the average person walking up a set of stairs as I've done that many times. It's that natural to me. It's not scary in any sense of the word.
"I do think that there's an element of just accepting that you are going to hit the ground at some point, you are going to get bumps and bruises, you might break a bone. It's part of the game."
But at the same time, the rush that you get from doing it and when it goes well and when it goes right and the feeling of flying and the feeling of going through a banked corner and hitting multiple Gs of force whipping around the corner, you know. I've never been an athlete in a lot of other sports, but I can't imagine that… and no disrespect to them, but I can't imagine that a swimmer or a runner gets that same adrenaline pump and that same kind of feeling that we get when we do these incredible things on the bike.
OC: Kai Sakakibara suffered serious injuries in a bad World Cup crash earlier this year. Can BMX be made safer?
CF: It's one of those things where I feel as action sports in general, BMX being one of then, skateboarding and things like that too, they kind of get a bad rap, because when the injuries happen, they're a little bit more spectacular. But if you look at a game like American football or ice hockey or UFC, they're getting just as injured. But it might not be as pronounced because it's not one person by themselves for ice hockey, for example. Not one person skating by himself and falls down, whereas for us it's one person going by themselves and they fall down and bike goes flying and it looks really bad.
"So I don't know, the numbers don't support it being any more dangerous, not than some of those other sports."
But as far as what they can do for safety… Obviously, safety and equipment can always improve, you know, like there's certain helmet brands that have put a lot of effort into making it a safer helmet and pads are not mandatory. Not everybody wears pads. I wear pads but some people don't. So there are some things that you can do personally to try to make yourself a little safer.
OC: Your fellow BMX riders are raising money for Kai through this "77 for 77" challenge where you have to lift 77 reps of 77 kilograms of weight. What was that like for you?
CF: I actually did that more towards the beginning of the quarantine thing, and I hadn't been lifting very much weights. I was a bit out of practise, and I didn't plan for the long haul. So I did the first half, I did like 30 or 35 reps in like eight, nine minutes. But I completely blew all my energy in the beginning. I took like nine minutes to do the first half and then like 20 minutes to do the second half.
And by the end of it I was doing like one, take a break, another one, take a break, another one. Pace myself a little bit more and I could probably get it in 20, 25 minutes. But it was tough. Kai seems to be doing better now. I saw he put some stuff out online working on his rehab and stuff, and I just wish him all the best.
OC: Is there a specific mantra you race by?
CF: I always repeat to myself on race day, do your job. Just keep it simple, do your job. Do your job. Focus on what you control and I kind of repeat that kind of stuff to myself to stop myself from being distracted by whatever's going on around me. I don't have, like, a specific mantra.