‘When you want to win, you have to do it by yourself.’ Elis Ligtlee – Olympic athletes interviewed Episode 18

Christian: In this interview it’s my very pleasure to introduce Elis Ligtlee, Elis is track cyclist, and I have been lucky to support Elis as a Strength & Conditioning Coach for 7 years, and have seen her grow from a young aspiring athlete to a professional athlete.

Elis is Olympic champion in Keirin in Rio 2016. Her further achievements include three-time European champion in the Sprint in Keirin 2013 and 2015, a bronze medalist at the World Champs 2016 and 2018, former BMX rider and Elis has agreed to do the interview in English so as not to expose my Dutch. So thanks for that, Elis. Thanks for being here Elis.

Elis: Thanks for the invitation

Elis darkest moment

Christian: Elis, what was your darkest moment?

Elis: It was the period after the Rio Olympics 2016. It was really hard to come back and start training. I was a little bit of a famous person when I won the gold medal in Rio, and that was really hard because there was so much more attention on me. But the hardest period was after I came back and started training and being in the team.

After I won the gold medal in Rio, there was so much more attention on me, and that was really hard.

Christian: Okay. And what specifically was difficult in that?

Elis: You win an Olympic gold medal and then you have time for fun things and not for training. And then to come back in training is really hard.

Christian: And also probably high expectations on you even more than before?

Elis: Yes but I didn’t race much after the Olympics. So that was not a problem.

Christian: So how did you recover from that dark moment?

Elis: I got a lot of help from the team, from the coaches and I think the family was the most important thing in the whole period. They helped me very much.

Elis best moment

Christian: What was your best moment?

Elis: That was the Olympic medal win at Rio. Yes. That was unbelievable. My first Olympics and I won gold. That was crazy.

Christian: What did you learn from that moment? How has it influenced your life?

Elis: I learned that you have to believe in myself, that I am a really strong person. Before the Olympics I thought, “Yes, you’re going to the Rio Olympics,’ and then I thought, okay, it’s the first time that I will race there and let’s see and then I won gold and I thought maybe I’m really strong.

My first Olympics and I won gold. I learned that you have to believe in yourself.

Elis advise to a younger Elis Ligtlee

Christian: If you could go back in time 10, 15 years, what advice would you give your younger self?

Elis: To believe more in myself than I did in that period. I wanted to be a racer and it was more fun than serious. To believe in yourself is really important in sports.

Christian: And now the difficult question, how do you do that?

Elis: That’s a really difficult question. When you win a race then it’s good and then you think, hey, maybe I’m strong but when you lose a game, then it’s really hard to believe in yourself and then you have to find a way how to keep believing in yourself.

When you lose a game, then it’s really hard to believe in yourself and then you have to find a way how to keep believing in yourself.

Christian: And if you would sit now in front of the 15-year-old or let’s say the 12-year-old Elis with all the experiences you have and the 12-year-old Elis just lost a race and is down and says, “Oh, I’m not good enough.” What would you tell her to bring up her confidence and believe?

Elis: To train harder and not to sit back and do nothing. I think that’s really important.

Elis success habits

Christian: What are the habits that make you a successful athlete and person?

Elis: They have always told me that I’m really strong and I think that’s really important in track cycling and as a sprinter. They say that I have a lot of power and I think that’s one of the biggest compliments you can have in track cycling.

Christian: I think you’re also a very good competitor. I think when it comes to a competition you’re able to dig very deep in your reserves.

Elis: Yes, I am bad at losing.

I am bad at losing.

Christian: You don’t like to lose, right?

Elis: No. I think that’s also really important when you racing. Sometimes you see people that are happy with a 10th Place. No, I’m not happy with it, because, at the World Championships in Apeldoorn, that was my first biggest race after the Olympics and darkest moments.

Christian: So that was this year 2018?

Elis: Yes and I won a bronze medal and I’m really happy with it. I was really happy, yes. It felt good a little bit.

Christian: Nice. Nice.

How to stay motivated

Christian: How do you stay motivated? What keeps you going?

Elis: The fun in sports, my team – I have a really good team with a lot of cool persons, lovely persons. So that’s why I stay motivated. Also, I know that there’s so much more within myself that I can put out than what there is now. After the, Olympics it was a period that I thought that now that I have gold, now it’s done but then I thought no, there’s so much more than one Olympic gold medal.

After the Olympics, I thought that now that I have gold, now it’s done but then I thought, there’s so much more than one Olympic gold medal.

The meaning of the two tattoos on her arms

Christian: And a personal question. You have two tattoos on your forearm or on your arm – one of the Olympic rings and one is the initials of your family. Can you explain what both tattoos mean to you?

Elis: I got the rings after the Olympics when I won the gold medal. It was a dream for me when I was a little girl to be at the Olympics and I thought about what’s the highest thing one can have in sports and that’s Olympic gold and then I won Olympic gold and then I thought it’s time to get a tattoo. And the family is really important for me. I didn’t stand here– I’m very thankful for my family. My parents are really strong. My brother Sam is also on the team. I’m so in love with them. They are really important to me.

I thought about what’s the highest thing one can have in sports, and that’s Olympic gold, then I won Olympic gold and then I thought it’s time to get a tattoo.

And my family is really important to me, and I’m very thankful for my family.   

Elis morning routine

Christian: Do you have a morning routine? How do you get ready for the day?

Elis: I’ll have yogurt or sometimes I’ll have oatmeal, yes and that’s it.

How to prepare for important moments

Christian: How do you prepare for important moments when the competition is on?

Elis: Nothing special. You have to train really hard before a competition and on the day itself I have a small– it’s a little heart and I put it on my skinsuit for a little bit of luck and that’s one thing that’s really important for me.

Christian: Is it a sticker?

Elis: No, it’s a plastic thing. It’s really small but I got it from my boyfriend a long time ago. When I put it on my bike for the first time that I went to the World Championship on the BMX and I found for myself that it was really important for me. So I take it with me to all the important competitions as well as at the Rio Olympics. That’s one of my important things in racing.

I have a small sticker, I put it on my skinsuit for a little bit of luck and that’s one thing that’s really important for me.

Christian: I have the same thing. I have two small things from my children. So one is a small figure from the movie Kung Fu Panda and my son made a small Lego one for me and I also have an arm brace– no it’s not a brace but it’s a kind of armband from my wife and every time I’m away from my family or I have to go for something, important whatever it might be, I take them with me. I always put it in my pocket.

Elis: That’s really nice. Yeah, I feel the same but then I have a small plastic thing. It’s funny.

Christian: So in that Olympic final in 2016, which was pretty amazing, I mean you were leading from the front, right? And you started to attack and lead early.

Elis: Yes. With two rounds to go, yes.

Christian: And you brought it home. So was it a plan or did it come intuitively?

Elis: The semi-final was really bad. They pushed me away and that was really crazy. And before the final, we sat with René Wolff the coach–

Christian:who was interviewed as well.

Elis: When you want to win you have to do it by yourself. So the Derney goes out and one girl goes and I think when she’s going I have to go because when they all speed then I cannot think. So I had to do it by myself. So with two rounds to go, I have the lead and yes, that was–

When you want to win you have to do it by yourself.

Christian: Really amazing, true.

Elis: With a half lap to go I stood up from my bike, my legs were hurting so much but I had to do it and then at the last corner I saw that René was standing and screaming and yelling and I thought that I was second when I got over the line but I was really happy that I had medaled and then I saw the number one on the scoreboard and I said yes. And that was a really important moment because my family was also there and it was crazy.

With a half lap to go I stood up from my bike, my legs were hurting so much but I had to do it.

How to overcome setbacks

Christian: So how do you overcome setbacks if things don’t go your way?

Elis: Normally I would sit back and do nothing but after the Olympics, I learned that I have to stand up and work for it because otherwise, you can do nothing anymore. So you have to fight harder and harder and then, yes, you have pain but you say ok, that’s it and go harder and train harder. Mentally, you have to go sit in front of the mirror and tell yourself ok what do I have to do and then you have to do that because otherwise, it stops, I think. When you start to grow older it’s not as easy anymore.

After the Olympics, I learned that I have to stand up and work for it, you have to fight harder and harder. Mentally, you have to go sit in front of the mirror and tell yourself ok what do I have to do and then you have to do it.

Christian: Yes, I believe that. Ok. Good. There’s also that saying, I think, ‘pain is temporary but the pain of giving up will last forever.’ So that’s exactly what you just said.

Elis: And I think when you’re on the podium you will forget everything. When you’re standing there with your gold medal then you forget the pain that you had two years ago or one year ago or in the training. Then you’re standing there with your gold medal.

When you are on the podium, and you are standing there with your gold medal, you will forget everything. You forget the pain that you had two years ago or one year ago.

Elis role model 

Christian: Nice. Who’s your role model and why?

Elis: I didn’t have a role model, no. In BMX I didn’t have that and now, no.

Christian: Interesting.

Elis: Why?

Christian: It’s just a lot of people have mentioned that – that they don’t have a role model.

Elis: I think you have to believe in yourself and that’s the important thing in sports and yes, I didn’t have a role model.

I didn’t have a role model, you have to believe in yourself.

The best advice she has received

Christian: What is the best advice you have received and who gave it to you?

Elis: I have to believe in myself. That’s really hard. That can be really hard mentally. When you have periods where you do not believe in yourself, you can see it in training or in competitions. When you do not believe in yourself then you can’t get the goals that you have set out for yourself. I have a lot of talks with my old coach René and that is one of the most important things.

When you do not believe in yourself then you can’t get the goals that you have set out for yourself.

A typical training day in the life of a professional track cyclist

Christian: How does a typical training day look like? Just take us through what do you from morning to evening.

Elis: There are different trainings. When you have a gym training and you have your goals then it’s nice to ask what to do and you chase new PB’s. That’s really nice.

Christian: You like the competition right?

Elis: Yes. On the track, a good training is when you get off your bike and feel it in your legs and that you go into bed in the afternoon and then you sleep really well, because you know that you have had a really good training and you’re so tired that you go into bed at 10:00 and then you think, okay now it’s done for today.

Christian: When do you get up normally?

Elis: In the morning, normally at 7:30 or 8.

Christian: And the first training is at 9, 9:30?

Elis: 9:30, yes.

Christian: And then are there two trainings per day?

Elis: Yes. Sometimes one. Sometimes two.

Christian: If you have two trainings what do you do in between the trainings?

Elis: I have lunch, I will not sleep. I hate it. So I have a rest and watch TV or YouTube.

Elis interview nomination

Christian: Do you want to nominate someone to be interviewed?

Elis: Shanne Braspennincx

Christian: She was already interviewed so you need to choose someone else.

Elis: Then maybe my little brother Sam.

Christian: Sam. Cool, We’ll do that.

Where can you find Elis Ligtlee

Christian: Where can people find you?

Elis: On social media. I have

Instagram

Twitter

Facebook profile

Facebook athlete page

Elis Website

Otherwise, in the gym or track or on the road.

Christian: Elis, thanks a lot. That was really good.

Elis: Thank you.

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