‘Belief, work ethic, and surround yourself with good people.’ Maris Strombergs Olympic athletes interviewed Episode 40

Christian: Today’s it’s my pleasure to talk to Maris Strombergs, and I have been looking forward to this talk for a long time. Maris is a double Olympic champion in BMX Supercross, winning at the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008, and defending his title at the London 2012 Olympics, Maris participated in 3 Olympic Games. His other most notable achievements, he is a two times World Champion, a one-time runner up at the World Champs and a four times European champ.

Welcome, Maris.

Maris: Thanks for having me. Thank you. Good to be here.

Christian: Actually, I was looking forward to this interview for a long time, and I was hoping we can sit face to face, but technology makes it possible to talk even across continents.

Maris: Yes. With all this new technology these days it’s hard to keep up with all this stuff. So it’s also all new to me. I’m more of an old school guy, but it’s fine. It’s crazy how these days you can connect with people from all over the world. Yes, it’s pretty cool.

His darkest moment 

Christian: Maris, in your life as an athlete, what was your darkest moment?

Maris: As a professional athlete, I would probably say the 2010 Grands, when I crashed at the end of the year. That set me back a little bit in there. Everything was really going perfectly in my life and career until that crash happened. The toughest part was not being able to figure out why it happened.

Everything was really going perfectly in my life and career until that crash happened. The toughest part was not being able to figure out why it happened.

It was just such a random mistake that I made. It just came out of nowhere. To this day, I don’t really know why it happened, but it did happen. It’s really hard to explain.

I think that’s one of those things that set me back in my career little bit. There was definitely quite a lot of things still to come after the crash. I just got back on the bike and then be competitive and confident again.

Christian: What did you learn from that moment?

Maris: You can’t take things for granted. Back then I was twenty-two. Everything was going perfectly. I was going for winning all these titles and that year I was going for title number four, which was the ABA title. As a young kid, you just don’t think about it. You just want to go for it and try to win every title possible.

That’s one of those things. Still, to this day, I’ve only seen the video when I crashed a couple of times and I look at it and I don’t know what went wrong. It’s just a tough one.

Christian: You became World Champion again in the next year. How did you recover from it?

Maris: I won 2010 and then I crashed later that year. Actually, when I got back on my bike, I think it was two and a half months later. I think I wasn’t able to ride for five and a half to six months.

Then I got back on my bike, and two and half months later I got second at the Worlds. So, if you look at the results, physically the injury wasn’t as bad as it was mentally. This set me back a little bit.

If you look at the results, physically the injury wasn’t as bad as it was mentally.

What did I learn from it? I don’t know. That’s a tough one. Why was it tough? There was a rest period and then we did the surgery. After all that stuff, a month later they discovered there was something wrong with the shoulder as well. We have to get surgery.

At that point, I was in disbelief. It took the whole month just to figure out what was wrong with my shoulder. I thought the shoulders were going to set me back even longer. But the shoulder actually healed way before my wrist and hand healed.

I still remember to this day. I had to wear a cast for two months. I went to the doctor, they took the cast off and I started physical therapy and all that stuff to get the range of motion back in my wrist. Then I went back to the doctor for a check-up three months later and he said it had still not healed.

I was in disbelief, I still remember to this day, I went back to the doctor for a check-up three months later and he said it had still not healed.

So they put a cast on for another month. At that point, I was very concerned about the length of time. By the time the cast comes off, it would have been four months. That’s a long time for a 23-year-old kid that wants to just ride his bike. That was tough.

I think at that moment when they put the cast on, my physical therapist from Latvia actually flew to America. He stayed with me to work with me and to make sure I do all the right stuff. By this time we went back to doctors for another check-up and to see if I could take the cast off.

We took an X-ray and he said it was almost healed and doing well. However, it still took me awhile. I would say probably it was another three weeks before I was able to just get back on my bike.

The first couple of weeks I was barely able to hold onto my handlebars. I had to really take my hand and wrist to just to be able to ride. I still remember those first couple gate practices, after the injury where I was just slow. I had to wonder if I was ever going to get it back.

You’re always worrying. When you get in the gate, you just want to be competitive right away, but you can understand it’s going to take time. I was doing gates [starts] with some of the guys that I used to beat easily and now I could just barely hang in there with them. I wondered what had happened. I was worried if I was ever going to be the same old Maris again.

I was worried if I was ever going to be the same old Maris again.

Then all those doubts can creep in and you think about it. Obviously, that is why I have my coach and my physical therapist, too.  He’s not just a good a coach, but he is also good with that mental part to really help me to get back on my bike. So three months later, I was a runner up for the World Title. So it worked out. All the hard work I put in, in those three months to help me get back on the bike and getting in contention again.

Christian: What did your coach do to keep you on track mentally?

Maris: Well, coach and I, we always had a good relationship. I always say he’s like my second dad. I always had full trust in him and whatever decision he made or whatever training program he came up with. As a coach, you always have to make it interesting and make something new to keep that lead, keep it going and keep it fun.

Coach and I, we always had a good relationship, he’s like my second dad. I always had full trust in him and whatever decision he made.

There are some decisions he made, at first that I don’t think was a good idea. But he was one of the people that I really trusted and whatever idea or plan he came up with I was all in. I think that also helped me to get back on track faster than I thought I could.

He has a different kind of approaches and techniques. Sometimes you might think it’s crazy. You may think that it’s not going to work. But he always proves me wrong. Trust me, so many times he’s come up with the plans or training camps or training sessions that I said was impossible.

However, by two or three weeks later, we figure it out and I have to admit to the coach that I was wrong. He kept proving me wrong so many times. So that’s why I say he’s one of the guys that I really trusted and whatever he came up with, I was always in.

His Rio 2016 experience 

Christian: That is interesting. I’m not sure whether it was really a dark moment for you, but let’s talk about your Rio 2016 experience. You put your foot down at the Papendal World Cup and won.

Then a few people thought you might go for a third gold medal at the Rio Olympic Games, and then you went out in the quarter-final.

Maris: Yes, that’s what happened. To be honest, physically I felt fine. I thought I could definitely make it happen and pull off another Olympic title again. Deep down I really did believe I’m going to go out there and win again. That’s how confident I was.

Deep down I really did believe I can make it happen and pull off another Olympic title again.

But for Rio 2016, obviously the race was over when I said some things about the track and in my opinion, it definitely wasn’t the most perfect track for the Olympics. I was more prepared for something like Papendal track, where the gate drops and you can just open up and just let it all out. That’s what I was more prepared for.

I always say if I was 25, I probably would’ve figured out the track. However, at 29, the first straights were just too small for me. As I said, the second jump, even three or four months before the 2016 Olympics, I let the organizing committee know, it’s just too small for the speed we’re going.

Then I showed up to the Olympics and I saw that it’s still the same. Really, on a quarter-final day when I showed up at the track, I already knew this is over for me. It was not going to happen because I was only able to go 100% on the third jump. Then obviously, I get a tap on my brakes and find a way to get over the second jump. If you can’t go full speed, then that’s not what I was prepared for.

It sucks. It is what it is, but it just wasn’t meant to be. As far as physically, I know I put all the work in. As far as the times, gates, the shape, the mental approach and where I was at that time, I was ready to go and then three-peat.

That’s what kept me in the sport after the Rio Olympics a little bit because I thought maybe I’ll give it another go in Tokyo 2020. Even the last couple of years before the Rio Olympic Games, I wouldn’t say I was struggling, but mentally, there were little things that I had to fight and overcome in just regular practices.

I was struggling with some things. It was difficult just to get those couple of cranks in between jumps or on the bottom of the starting wheel. The 2010 crash is part of the reason why that all started. What happened when I crashed is I over-pedaled. I pedaled too far and jump with the wrong foot.

I was struggling mentally with some things, and the 2010 crash is part of the reason why that all started.

I think deep down mentally, it did set me back. As we get older it’s a lot harder to overcome those things, and I was struggling. We had a lot of Supercross sessions and training camps where I was just struggling mentally. I was just able to do the most basic things. And so that’s why I say it was definitely a challenge.

But I fought through it. I made it work. I made it happen. I still went out there and won a bunch of races. I put all the work in to get myself ready mentally and physically for the Rio Olympics. It’s just when I showed up and I saw the track, especially the first straight-away, I just knew it’s not going to happen.

As far as the track itself, I think it’s actually the perfect track for me. The first straight was better, but the rest of the track was tricky and it was also very hard to pass. If you don’t make any mistakes, I knew if I could get the whole shot and the first straight would have been more mellow, that would’ve been a very perfect track for me actually. It’s just the second jump really screwed it over a little bit, but there are no regrets. As long as I know I put all the hard work in and I prepare myself to my best abilities, I can walk away really happy.

As long as I know I put all the hard work in and I prepare myself to my best abilities, I can walk away really happy.

Christian: That’s good if you can look back with no regrets and walk away happy. You did everything, that was in your control.

His best moment

Christian: What was your best moment?

Maris: It was the London 2012 Olympics, because like I always say, it’s a lot harder to defend your title than to do the first one. That’s why I always say mentally, it was definitely the toughest races that I raced in.

When you win Olympic gold and then those four years just fly by and there’s another Olympics and suddenly it’s like your gold medal is on the line.

Knowing BMX how it is, basically, you got to have a perfect race to be able to win another title or any title or gold medal. Physically I was ready, but mentally it just felt like the Olympics came too soon. It’s like my Olympic medal is on the line and questioned what would happen if I don’t win again.

You win Olympic gold, then those four years just fly by and there’s another Olympics and suddenly it’s like your gold medal is on the line.

It was tough for me. I was even struggling in training, in a month leading up to the Olympics. In just the regular track session, we have to do laps. I was struggling and I was thinking that I was putting in all this hard work. I figured that if I crashed and get injured I could not go the Olympics and defend my gold medal.

If you’re thinking about it, you can’t give it 100% in training sessions. That was on my mind. I did not want to get hurt or for something stupid to happen. I wanted to be healthy. I want to show up and be able to compete for another gold medal.

At that time it was really the toughest thing to overcome in the lead up to the London Olympic Games. As you know, even in practice, I was struggling, but it was nothing to do physically. Physically, I was ready. I was good to go.

It’s just mentally, I was making all these mistakes. Even in practice of the race, I hit the gate and got to the next gate late. My body wasn’t loose enough. Mentally, the nerves took over a little bit. And I just wasn’t feeling like myself. I almost felt like a caged animal.

Even in practice, I was struggling, but it wasn’t physically, it was just mentally, I was making all these mistakes. I wasn’t feeling like myself. I almost felt like a caged animal.

But very slowly, I found a way. Like I said, the third semi-final, I got that feeling back to who I am and what I can do. It’s just the main events when it just clicked at the right time. The main events have always been kind of my specialty. That’s when I can get myself ready and give it all I got. And then it just worked out perfectly.

His feeling of catching the wave before the Olympic final 2012

Christian: I’ve written down for a later point, but it fits in perfectly here. I listened to two interviews of you and you described that feeling before the Olympic final that you feel like a surfer who’s catching the wave and you feel that is your moment?

Maris: Yes, it’s not just the Olympic final, it’s any race. That is how I always looked at it. I compared it to surfing. It’s always hard to get on that and to catch the wave. But once you get on that board, stand up and catch the wave, it just flows.

That’s an Olympic Game and that’s how London 2012 really was. I was struggling really. You’re waiting for the wave and then you jump on your surfboard and you just fall back down. You just couldn’t quite find that balance.

Then I think the third semi-final, I actually got second, but I had a good gate and then added pretty much a whole shot. But I think I ended up with a second and that’s when I got on the surfboard, found the balance and just caught that wave. That got it going and when I finished that lap I just had this boost of confidence knowing that I got this.

This is a true story. Before the big final, as we were going up to the starting hill, my coach’s assistant was looking at me and he asked “Why are you smiling?” and I told him “Because I got this!”

My coach’s assistant was looking at me and he asked “Why are you smiling?” and I told him “Because I got this!”

Then I went up there and did my thing. I had the best gate up there, of the whole weekend and probably even all training sessions. I couldn’t have done it any better.

Christian: That feeling of catching the wave, you think you can reproduce it or it just happens?

Maris: It’s one of those things that has to happen naturally. There have been so many races, where I show up and we all have those days where you’re just not feeling it. You’re just not clicking and you’re trying to find ways to try to fight it, but it’s just not happening.

It just has to happen naturally really. But it also means you have to be able to fall back on something. Obviously, what helps you to get on that catch the wave, is you’ve got to rely on all the hard work you put in. That gives you that extra confidence that you’re going to catch the wave at the right time and the right moment.

At the end of the day, it’s really all the hours and all the hard work you put in the gym, sprints, track and then just mentally preparing yourself and getting to the point where you can go out there and compete for the win. So there’s really no magic words or how to get on that catch the wave.

Everyone’s different, everyone has a different approach. For me, it was always that you have to be confident. You don’t want to be overly confident because that comes out as almost cocky. I always had that.

As an athlete, you have to find the right balance between being confident and overly confident and sometimes struggling with confidence. There are really three things and so you’ve got to have the right balance. We are athletes and it’s our job to figure it out.

Sometimes there’s nothing the coach can say, there’s nothing that the psychologist can tell you, but you just got to get out there and figure it out yourself. Like I always say, that’s our job. That’s what we get paid to do. Sometimes just got to do it yourself.

There’s nothing the coach can say, there’s nothing that the psychologist can tell you, but you just got to get out there and figure it out yourself. That’s what I always believed in.

You can’t just rely on other people all the time that they’re going to come in and tell you the right things and motivate you. Sometimes it’s on you. It has to come from you as an athlete. That’s what I always believed in.

His advice to a younger Maris Strombergs

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

Maris: If I look back at my younger years, I was always a very focused, motivated kid. I never cried. I was down to earth. I never tried to overdo it, but I was always a hardworking kid.

I think for later in my career what I would tell myself if I could redo some of the races and other things are that things are a lot simpler than you think they are. We tend to complicate them too much a lot of times when things are not going our way. We try to look for all these solutions and then try to make things too complicated than they actually are.

The solution a lot of times is very simple. It’s right in front of our eyes and we just don’t see it. As I said, it’s one of those things that’s easier said than done. When you’re in the moment and you’re struggling with something or you’re not winning races or you’re not going as fast as you would like to go the natural thing to do is just to overthink.

We tend to complicate too much when things are not going our way. The solution a lot of times is very simple.

Overthinking a lot of times sets you back even more. Maybe the last three or four years if I could get a redo over, I would probably approach some things with a lot more clearer mind. It’s a more simple approach really. I think I did overthink a lot of things and that was the reason why I was struggling with some of the most basic things.

A lot of times you don’t even think when you train, and I was actually just overthinking that stuff. The athletes have got to find ways to figure it out. That’s what we have to deal with as athletes. It’s not always going to be nice and perfect and you’ve got to find ways to get out of that hole whenever good things are not going great.

Christian: Again, in another interview, I think you said you saw in the newspaper that BMX will be in the Olympics. You thought that this would be cool and that there will be a gold medallist in BMX. Back then you didn’t think it could be you. If I do the math that must have been somewhere around 2001. When did you think and believe you could be the Olympic champion in Beijing 2008?

Maris: Well, I think I was maybe 14 or 13, 14 when I read that in the newspaper. I still remember to this day. I was at my dad’s work. He used to own a shop and I picked up the newspaper and then I read it. I said that this was great because someone’s going to be an Olympic champion in BMX Supercross.

At that time, even though I loved BMX and I was pretty good at it, even as a kid, I never thought it’s just going to be me in 6 or 7 years. To be honest, it was probably 2008 when it really, really kicked in that I could win.

Christian: In the year itself?

Maris: Yes, I finished high school, that was 2 years before the Olympics and then I started college, but that’s when qualifications started for Beijing Olympics. I left college so I can just focus on BMX and try to make the Olympic team. Even at that point, two years before, the goal was just to race, have fun and then get as many points and just be able to go to the Olympic Games.

2 years before the Olympics, the goal was just to race, have fun and then get as many points and just be able to go to the Olympic Games.

Even in 2008, I won the European title, and then I won the World title. Then after I won the World title, I still remember it to this day. Back then, sitting at home and I was sitting on the stairs outside and of one of my buddies asked if I had thought about it. He said that I had won it all this year, and I could win the Olympics too.

We’re talking about two and a half months before the Olympics. I told him that I know that it was possible. That’s when I really started realizing that it could happen. I wasn’t nervous about the Olympics that year because the qualification was still going on and I was so focused and just going out there and then trying to win the European title, which I won.

Then the next focus shifts to the World title. Once I won the World title, my thoughts were that the World Championship was over and I wondered what would be next. In those two and a half months we start focusing and thinking about the Olympics and as I said, I realized that I pretty much have won the whole thing this season and the next thing was Olympics.

I started thinking that I could do it and that’s when it really kicked in. That’s why I would say, it’s never easy to win. If I have to compare Beijing 2008 to London 2012, the approach and nerves and the stress that went in, in preparing for both games, Beijing’s not even close to London. I was one of the youngest kids in Beijing.

It was just all fun and everything was new. I was one of the youngest kids, even though I was still one of the favorites. I think a lot of people didn’t expect me to win. They thought that because I was a young kid having a new experience at the Olympics, I was probably going to fall apart and I can’t handle the pressure. It just freed me, really. I felt good out there. I felt good and confident and really not much stress. There was not that much pressure.

Check out the final of Men’s BMX at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games (starting at minute 01:00)

His success habits

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

Maris: If I look back on my career, I always mentioned three things, that helped me get through to achieve what I achieved. Number one is the belief, this means you got to believe in yourself that you can be the best. The second thing is work ethic, you got to work hard, which includes eating healthy, always showing up on time, not skipping any training sessions, not taking any shortcuts, and putting extra work in. The third thing is to surround yourself with good people. I always say you’ve got to have a small group of people. It can be the coach, your parents, some of your good friends that are just good people and that there’s a good vibe going on. They have to be people that support you and want you to succeed.

I always mention three things, that helped me to achieve what I achieved. Belief, work ethic and surround yourself with good people.

Especially for a young kid that’s pretty important to have the right group of people around you that push you in the right direction and give you all the right tools to succeed. So I really do believe those three things are the key, particularly for the younger upcoming athletes. When you’re more established, you might change, but for an upcoming athlete, those are very important.

For me, the training part was never a problem. Even as a kid I was already a hard worker, I always used to overdo things just to get that extra work in. Even in high school, because I used to literally live right by the school, just one minute walk away. And then I used to just run away from some of the lessons and just go home and then put some clothes on real quick and go on the mountain bike or just put my running shoes on and went for a quick run. Then I went back home and didn’t even take a shower and just show up at the next lesson all quick and sweaty and you’d never know that stuff.

I used to just run away from some of the school lessons, to go on the mountain bike or go for a quick run and then show up at the next lesson again. That’s how willing I was to put all the necessary work in, I did whatever it took.

That’s how willing I was to put all the necessary work in. I did whatever it took and I was really motivated. At that time, I was not really thinking about Olympics, I just wanted to be the best version of myself and then give myself the best chance to compete with all the older guys at that time. I was like the third guy in line and then- and those guys were pushing me and I wanted to catch him and then try to be closer, closer, closer to try to beat them and then it would eventually happen.

Christian: Interesting. I think also in the same interview I mentioned before, you said it all starts with picturing yourself in that position, then the dream can become true. Is that kind of a visualization thing?

Maris: It definitely does help. You have to see yourself at the top of the podium. But like I said, everyone’s approach is different, but if you are afraid of the moment, then you probably not going to get there. You got to embrace the moment. You got to visualize, you got to see yourself where you want to get eventually, and get up and go towards that goal.

You have to see yourself at the top of the podium. You got to see yourself where you want to get eventually, and get up and go towards that goal.

There’s no way around it really. Even for myself, throughout my career, I never really watched videos of myself. Even when I won the race, I never like going home and watching the videos of myself racing. I go home and the race is over. Either I won or I didn’t win.

I move on and get back to my training routine. But then I think, before London 2012 actually, my coach told me that he wanted me to go on YouTube and just watch some of my best races. He said this was to remind me who I was, what I was capable of and then what I could do. I think that helped me as well. It was always like my job, you get out, just try to win, make some money and you move on.

I think it really helped me, before the London Olympics as well, as just watching all those videos and the titles I won and the races I won. That gives me that extra confidence that I’m actually a decent rider. I think I can do this again and it worked out.

His morning routine

Christian: Do you have a morning routine?

Maris: Right now since I’m retired there’s really no routine, apart from just changing my son’s diaper.  When I was racing and it was nothing crazy, after I moved to America, I remember, I would get up at 8 o’clock, I would just get up and then grab my phone, check my social media, eat some oatmeal, just chill at home and then just get ready for the morning workout really. That’s just what it was.

As I got older, I started getting up a little bit earlier, nothing crazy, but it moved from 8 o’clock to 7 o’clock, I kept the morning routine pretty simple.

It’s just the same old. There’s nothing specific really. You eat, rest and then just try to get your body mentally get ready for the day. The morning workout they were never easy. So you have to make sure you get a good sleep in.

You can’t cheat on sleep.

As I got older, that’s what I realized more and more that you can’t cheat on sleep. You have to get those good solid seven or eight hours in, to give your body best chance of just recovering and getting ready for the next day, because of those gym workouts, they were never easy.

Most of the time I lift it by myself. Since I was here I have spent most of the time by myself. It’s tough and there were times when it was tough when you would want someone’s staying with you on days you get lazy. Your body sometimes gets mad. But when you’re on your own and you’ve got to do everything by yourself and find ways to motivate yourself, it got tough towards the end of my career.

I always found ways to get it done. I never skipped any training sessions. So, that was never an issue with me. If I had to get stuff done, I get it done, no matter- no matter how, but I always get it done. And I always made sure I put the extra work in if I had to.

How to prepare for important moments

Christian: How did you prepare for important moments?

Maris: For important moments you just to try to calm down really. If there’s a big race coming up,  I have always been a very calm person. I always relied on all the hard work I put in, that gave me the confidence to go into a big race and know that everything’s going to be fine.

Then I just do my thing and everything’s going to be fine. Everyone has to find that approach that works for them. Obviously, a lot of times before going into big races nerves want to take over a little bit. You do not feel like yourself.

I always relied on all the hard work I put in, that gave me the confidence to go into a big race and know that everything’s going to be fine.

You get on the bike in the training session before the race and you’re just not feeling right. You don’t feel your bike is as good as it should be. But for me it that’s just how I always felt going into big races. In the Friday sessions, you always feel like you just can’t quite get going.

When you are at the gates, nothing’s clicking. You get beaten by guys that you shouldn’t be beaten by. Then the session is over and the next day it gets better and by the final day, you feel like yourself again. That’s how it felt for me, at least, most of the times. It took me time to get going, but once I got going, the confidence was always at the highest peak on the final day.

I pace myself, really, and then that’s how we always train in that way too. It’s just like in a gym, You start with the lighter weight and then you build up all the way till you get to the maximum. That’s just how a lot of times my races went too.

The first moto [first round] is just easy, and then it just gets better and better. And then in the final, I’m on my peak, mentally and physically, I feel like – this is it. I’m ready to whole shot now.

In the final, I’m on my peak, mentally and physically.

Christian: Did you deliberately pace yourself in earlier races?

Maris: Well, maybe not on purpose, but it just happens naturally a lot of times. If you get a 1/8 final with the three or five top guys, then you know there’s no pacing yourself. There are races when you got to be ready from the very first lap and just go all out basically.

You don’t think about it, but you try to pace yourself, you don’t try to go like 100% out all the way to the finish line. You got to find that rhythm. You pace yourself and just feel out the competition a little bit as well.

Then slowly each lap you try to add some things and obviously by the quarter semi-final, that’s when you go. You got to go all out and you got to get the job done.

A lot of times in the 1/8 final, you understand you got to have a good gate [start] and all the stuff. You got to have the right focus, but deep down you know it’s not the final yet. So you got to save those three to five percent for the quarters, semis and finals. It’s just how I always was.

I couldn’t give 100% from the first very first moto. When I know that I had a long day ahead of me, I got to save something for the big moments. That’s just how it’s always been. But again, everyone’s different, everyone has a different approach. I’m sure a lot of athletes would do it differently, but that’s just how I always felt.

Christian: What did you do before the Olympics?

Maris: Before the Olympics finals? Like on actual race day? I was pretty calm. It’s really tough to explain. You’ve got to find your own routine and what works for you.

But there’s been a lot of races, I remember when I won the World Championships in China 2008, before Olympics that year, before the finals of the world champs, I was going up to the starting hill and I was drinking a bottle of coke, it’s just a coca cola with a little bit of sugar. There’s nothing bad. You can have it throughout the race, but everyone else is looking at me and wondering what I was doing.

But it helped me. It gave me a little bit of swag. This is something different and normally people don’t do. I’m just chilling there drinking soda before the final. Everyone wondered what was going on. But it just gave me that swag almost. That’s how confident I am. I can do whatever I want and then I know I’m going out there and perform.

That’s how confident I am. I can do whatever I want and I know I’m going out there and perform.

But obviously before London and then Beijing, there’s no soda drinking before the final. But you really, just really sit down.

I never really listened to music that much throughout the race, so I just sat down. Even me and my coach, we joke around a little bit and then he gave me my space and then I just sit there in a little quiet area. I just prepare myself and then that’s pretty much it.

At that time, from the semi-final to final, there’s really about 15 minutes. There’s not much you can change really. It’s just either you have it or you don’t at that point. I’ve got that confidence boost in the last semi-final and I was just sitting there relaxed and just kind of waiting for that- the moment. And everything clicked at the right time and I was ready.

How to overcome setbacks

Christian: How do you overcome setbacks?

Maris: Coach! That’s why it goes back to the coach. There have always been setbacks, so I had actually a lot of setbacks in 2012 before the Olympics. That year I was getting sick a lot. I was showing up to the races feeling great. And then bam, I got sick, I was racing with a temperature, I raced the Worlds with a temperature, I raced the Nationals with the temperature. I still won quite a lot of races though even though I was racing sick. But it takes a lot of energy and a lot out of you.

The more you do it, the harder it is for your body to recover. I was struggling and then the coach decided that this was the last time this was happening. So we flew out to America, to get me back on track.

I left that up to my coach. I told him how I feel or the things that are not going good or what is not working right now and then I let him come up with a plan. A lot of the plans he came up with, I wasn’t a fan of.

At first, I thought that this was too much. I did not like it. I don’t want to go somewhere for two months now, go away from home for two months. And we had some arguments, but obviously, at the end of the day, I trusted him 100% and then whatever he told me to do, I did it.

Coach, I trusted him 100% and then whatever he told me to do, I did it.

It paid off. Trust me, there have been so many times when he told me that I was living in my own comfort zone. But I was winning races, I was at home and then just doing what I normally do. And then suddenly the coach tells me, that I have to go away to Spain for two months.

I did not want to leave my dogs, my girlfriend and my home for two months. But he told me we had to do it to get me back on track. He said I needed to get ready for the season. And we did. We wanted to win some races to meet our goals, so I agreed to do it.

The beginning of the season is always the toughest. It was the toughest part for me. We always used to put a lot of work on the road rides before the season. Well, depending on which season, we did a lot of some road riding and then you do some gym stuff and then get back on the bike. And at first, you feel a little sluggish and slow and then it creeps in and always before the season. The first race is always tough because you’re just slow, and then you start to worry that you have done all this work and might stay slow. But it always comes back.

I always say that you need that one race to get yourself really going. Even though you struggle the first race, the second race is going to be probably 20 to 30% better. You’re going to feel way better than the first race.

You just need to get that first one out of the way. Over the years I learned to understand that. In 2014, I remember we went to the Manchester Indoor race before the season, and honestly I raced with Liam [Phillips] there and he’s pretty much unstoppable there. And he just killed me.

Even though I got second, I couldn’t even keep up with him on the track. That’s how fast he was going. I thought that it was quite embarrassing.

But then, a couple of weeks later, I came back to America. I think I won the Ultima and the first National. I went back and I won Germany lane six, and whole-shotted, I won that year was in Argentina. I won a lot of races.

It always reminded me that you just got to stick to the plan. You got to stay with the plan and trust your coach and then it’s going to turn around eventually. If you don’t trust your coach and you don’t trust your training program, then it’s not going to work out. It’s not going to work that way.

Over the years, I learned to understand that better and better each year. You got to trust the plan. If you don’t trust the plan, then it’s just pointless. It’s just not going to work.

The reasons for his retirement 

Christian: You gave an interview when you retired. For someone who’s not in the BMX scene, it wasn’t very clear why you retired. What was the exact reason you retired? Could you just give a rough outline of why you retired?

Maris: Well, I lost the fun on the bike really. It all really started 2017 mid-season. Usually, when you race, you’re supposed to race with a little bit of freedom, with the excitement and joy.  You have to enjoy being in those moments, putting yourself in there, getting in the gate and ready for the race and just racing the best guys in the world.

That year it almost became like a chore. I felt like I was faking it. It felt like hard work. It was just something I wasn’t enjoying. It felt like I’m being forced to be out there. That’s what I felt like.

I lost the fun on the bike, it almost became like a chore. It felt like I’m being forced to be out there.

At that point, even going into the race at the World Championships in Rock Hill deep down I knew this could be the last race. It could be the last big race of my career and I was actually going fast. I was feeling good.

At the practice times, we time some of the first straightaways. I was going well. It’s just the 1/8 final, I think just maybe the bad lane choice. I totally made a good move and just really bad luck because I was feeling good.

I thought maybe I can pull it off and go out with a bang. After the race, I just knew it. This was probably going to be my last big race, but I didn’t want to announce anything till I was 100% sure. I didn’t want the decision to be based on emotions right after the race. That’s why I took some time off.

I still trained a little bit. I went to the gym, I did some sprints, but the training routine wasn’t as strict as it was in the previous years. I kept myself in shape so that if I decide to continue, I would only need two or three months to get back to where I was and where I need to be.

But after a while and especially after my son was born, it just hit me that maybe it’s time. It’s not really because the son was born, but just at that point, I realized, maybe, I think this is it. I’m happy where I’m at in life.

Like I always say, people always ask me why I named my son Rio. That was my 3rd missing gold that I didn’t win in Brazil. I think after I got that one, my career was complete. That’s how I looked at it.

People always ask me why I named my son Rio. That was my 3rd missing gold, that I didn’t win in Brazil. After I got that one, my career was complete.

Yes, it was definitely a tough decision. What it also came down to was that the industry was suffering and struggling a little bit. Free agents left as a sponsor. They were still a little bit involved in the racing, but the money wasn’t the same.

There’s really not many good sponsors in the United States. Back in the days, it was definitely better and that hit me as well. It made me question whether at the age of 31, 32 or 33 if I want to race, go out there and then take those risks if I can’t make good enough money doing it.

I realize that even though I love the sport, I didn’t have that much love and passion for the sport to put myself in risk for the money. That just didn’t make much sense really. That’s what it really came down to.

At the end of the day, I think that was one of the main reason. Even coach asked me to stay in BMX, go for Tokyo 2020 and then try to do it again. But I told him, that the money has to be right.

If the money was not good enough or it gave me that little extra motivation, I just couldn’t do it. I gave it all I had. To do BMX at age 33 and put yourself in those risky situations because you love the sport just wasn’t the right thing to do anymore.

His role model

Christian: Who is your role model?

Maris: It has to be coach. As a kid growing up you always look in all the BMX magazines. So it was Benny Nelson, later on, it was Ivo Lakucs. He was the fastest guy in Latvia. He was going to the European race with all the big guys.

And when I was a kid at 13 or 14, I always look up to him. I thought it would be so cool to be coached by him, and I am glad I had the chance to be coached by him. And that was really a dream come true.

Then it turned into a good relationship. He started coaching me full time while he was still racing. Looking back that’s tough to do. Even though he was coaching mostly himself and we were doing the same stuff he was doing, but that’s still tough to do.

We were upcoming kids and we were getting closer and closer to the point where I started beating him. I started winning against him in practices, and his approach never changed. He was always there to help me, coach me and train me.

It has to be coach, he was always there to help me, coach me and train me.

For an athlete that’s impressive. That’s tough to do, especially when younger kids come up and they start beating you. A lot of times they would just stop coaching you and tell you to do your own thing.

But he was always cool and he took me under the wing. He kept working all the way until the end of my career. He never changed, so that was pretty cool. So I would say probably grew up as a kid, he was definitely that the biggest role model. That was the guy you always wanted to be coached by.

The best advice he has received

Christian: What’s the best advice you received and who gave it to you?

Maris: There have been so many little timely things that were said even during the races or maybe before the races or when I struggled. I can’t quite pinpoint one thing and remember exact words.

But I’m sure if I thought for a bit longer, maybe I would recall something. But I have always been a very self-motivated guy. There was never an issue where I felt like people have to come in and motivate me and then tell me all these things and all that stuff.

I always knew I can figure this out on my own. That’s how I always felt and that’s how I was raised. I grew up thinking that and then they conflated later in my career as well. Whatever happened or whatever was going on, I knew I can figure this thing out myself. If not myself, then with the help of my coach.

I always knew I can figure this out on my own.

That’s how I always felt. Anything related to BMX, I knew that me and my coach, whatever it is, we’re going to figure this out. That’s how confident I was. It was just me and him and without that, some of my good friends, Richards Veide and Christophe Conrad.

They used to ride BMX as well. They have helped me a lot. They trained with me and just kept it fun. But as far as their advice, it was never an issue. I knew where I want to get. I knew what needed to be done.

I knew where I want to get. I knew what needed to be done.

I knew the coaches to listen to and then me and him together, we can get there. That’s just how I always approached it.

A typical training day in the life of a professional BMX Supercross rider

Christian: Back in the days, what did the typical training day look like?

Maris: Typical training day back in the day? Every year we always tried to mix it up and change it. There were days when we did gym in the morning and then maybe years later we tried to switch it up and do it in the evening. We switched it up to see how the body felt and reacted to it.

Usually, I wake up at 8 o’clock. I used to eat a lot of oatmeal because it’s light, it fills you up and you don’t get hungry that quick. But it keeps you full. Obviously, coffee in the morning. The athletes love coffee and you just get ready to go out.

Usually, I have a gym in the morning. At the gym, the activity varied, you have to lift heavy and then some gym sessions which are 3 hours long or 3 hours and 20 minutes sometimes. During the season you just got maybe 2 hours or 2 hours and 20 minutes. You don’t go longer than that.

Since I was by myself a lot of times I would say it took longer. You would get lost in the moment a little bit in the gym by yourself. You just kind of float around and then the gym session instead of 2 hours, end up being like 2 hours and 20 minutes. It is a bit longer than it should have been.

Then as I got older, I paid a lot more attention to stretching. A lot of guys don’t really do, but I always tell them, either you start now or are you’re going to suffer later because it’s just one of those things.

I wasn’t doing it either when I was younger, I didn’t need it. I just wanted to race, lift, race, maybe stretch a couple of times a month. But as I got older, the stretching really helped though, especially the way I feel in my lower back. It just kept me nice and loose. I felt better on my bike.

Christian: How often would you do it? And just give us a rough outline. Daily? How many minutes? How many times a week? When are we talking about?

If we would have to give it to younger athletes now, how would we do it?

Maris: Yes, the stretching, I would say I did it once a day. On days off I didn’t stretch. I’ve mostly always stretch after the gym session when you lift all the weights on your back. I started stretching after all the track sessions too.

The sprints were like 50/50,  I didn’t stretch after sprints, depending on how I feel and what kind of sprints I had. If I had the sprints from a dead stop, I would probably stretch. If I had flying sprints, then I didn’t feel like I needed to stretch that much. Maybe instead of stretching, I just switched it to an ice bath or cryotherapy.

But yes, the stretching is just one of those things that had to become my routine later in my career. When I was younger I would do it once in a while when I feel like it. But then that changed. After training and the gym, you go home and rest and maybe run some errands like going to the bank.

But we mostly try to rest because either you have another sprint session or track session and you always want to make sure your body and your mind is just recovered enough. That way you can go and give it one hundred percent. You might show up at the track when you’re just physically tired, but you don’t want to show up when you’re mentally tired too.

When you’re mentally a little sluggish and just can’t quite get there to process the information quick enough, that’s how injuries happen a lot of times. So you got to be careful and really pay attention to the recovery part of the process. I have realized that as I get older too.

The kids just naturally recover. They’re always full of energy. But as you get older, you just got to time things and then plan your training schedule the right way. Sometimes if you overdo it, and over train and you have these sprints in the evening, you feel like your body’s just a little stiff.

You don’t think can handle them so you have to switch up the training program a little bit and just listen to your body a little more. As you get older, really, that’s just what changed. But other than that it was just stick to the plan.

The next chapter in the life of Maris Strombergs

Christian: What’s up next for the machine? What’s up in your life? Are you giving your knowledge and experience to others?

Maris: The coaching is really not something that I see myself doing full time. But I’m doing training, and clinics here and there and then all over the world to switch it up. But it’s mostly just traveling to different places and meeting the young upcoming kids and just passing on some of the stuff that I’ve learned over the years.

I am just hanging out with all the younger generation and giving them that extra motivation and extra boost, just to keep them going and doing what they’re doing really. That’s what it’s really all about. The training clinics you do two to three hours, so it’s one session.

I am passing on what I’ve learned over the years, giving the younger generation that extra motivation and extra boost, that’s what it’s really all about.

There’s a limited amount of time that I can spend with those kids and I can only teach them so many things in two or two and a half hours. But it’s really all about giving them that direction, talking to them and giving them that extra boost of motivation to keep it up and to keep going.

That’s really what it’s all about because looking back on my career, I never really had that. I think the kids have it great these days. It’s a great opportunity to be coached and then be shown different things by the professional athletes and the good athletes of BMX racing. So I think it’s awesome for them.

Christian: Yes, it’s cool that you’re giving back.

Maris: Yes. I’m doing it once a while. It’s not a full-time thing though, I’m just really doing it once a while, once in every other month just to kind of keep it fun and plan some trips and stuff like that. But it’s not something I do like every week.

His interview nomination

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

Maris: I’d have to nominate someone. It can be anyone?

Christian: It’s up to you.

Maris: I don’t know. How many have you done? Have you done a lot of athletes already? I saw you did one with Jelle?

Christian: Yes. BMX is pretty much sorted now. Now we have you, we had Sam Willoughby, we had the whole Dutch crew, Raymon, Niek, Jelle, Twan, Merle, Rob, and Bas.

Maris Strombergs: You got a lot of them.

Christian: We have Mariana too.

Maris: Oh, you got all the big ones.

Christian: Alise is next up. I haven’t spoken to her yet.

Maris: I don’t know, one of the coaches, but I don’t think my coach would be interested. He doesn’t like all the social media stuff and interviews, so I don’t think he would sign up for this. So that’s why I can’t really nominate my coach.

Christian: We have to convince him.

Maris: Yes, we would have to do some convincing with him there for sure, but yes, I think that would be my nominee, really. There are so many athletes you can do. Or maybe Edzus Treimanis, someone that’s just kind of been around for long enough and have seen it all and retired.

I think once you’re retired and away from the sport, you can really talk about these things a lot clearer and better. Once you’re still racing, you don’t really see a lot of things the way you see when you’re done racing.

That’s at least how I personally feel. That’s why I think those guys would be good as well. Someone that’s been in BMX, but maybe not racing at the moment or anymore. So yes, that would be my nominee. I’ll let you pick one yourself.

Where can you find Maris Strombergs

Christian: Where can people find you?

Maris: I don’t really use Facebook that much, but probably Instagram would be the best @MarisStrombergs and then if they have any questions or anything they can always send me a message. That’s really probably the only one I still check these days.

And obviously email. I’m always available through emails, but probably the best one is Instagram.

Maris Stromberg’s social profiles

Instagram

Facebook profile

Facebook athlete page

Christian: And your website is strombergs81

Maris: No the website is marisstrombergs.com. I haven’t updated the website in a while, because I’m still in that stage right now, where I’m trying to figure out what direction I want to go to after my BMX career, I don’t fully know what I want to do next.

So I’m just in that stage where I’m trying to figure it out. So everything’s on hold right now, the website and all that stuff. But we’ll see. I’ll stick around.

Christian: Yes. Maris, thanks so much for your time. That was great. Thank you.

Maris: Thank you. Thanks for having me. Until next time. Thank you.

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