‘It’s not the results I race for, it’s the love for the sport.’ Niek Kimmann – Olympic athletes interviewed Episode 5

What do you do, if you have achieved all the goals you ever had when you are 20 years? Niek Kimmann, BMX Supercross Rider, Junior World Champion 2014, Senior World Champion 2015, and Olympian 2016 shares his story, how he struggled after the period, when he achieved all his goals and how he recovered from 2 difficult years to have his to date best year in his career as an athlete.

In this interview Niek discusses

Christian: In this interview, it’s my very pleasure to be joined by Niek Kimmann, BMX Supercross Rider. I had the opportunity to start to work with Niek in 2012 when he was 16 years old and joined the Junior National BMX team.

Over the years, Niek became Junior World Champion 2014, one year later, in 2015 Senior World Champion, Olympian at the Rio Olympics 2016 and World number 1 in the BMX world ranking in 2018.

Welcome, Niek.

Niek: Thanks for having me.

Niek’s darkest moment

Christian: Niek, what was your darkest moment as an athlete?

Niek: My darkest moment came right after one of my biggest moments. As a kid, when you grow up and dream about being on the top of your sport, and then all of a sudden, you are there, you win the World Champs. After that, I was like, “This is what I have been dreaming about, now I am here, what to do next?”

I really found it difficult to find motivation, especially after the Olympics 2016. That was something I dreamed about my whole life, I trained for, and then it was over, I crashed there, I got injured. I think those two years [2015 and 2016] went by so quickly, from being a junior athlete to an elite athlete and actually winning the World Championships, then going to the Rio Olympics 2016. I have reached pretty much all of the goals I have ever had at the age of 20 years. I really found it hard to find motivation after that. I couldn’t sleep at nights, and I felt stressed all the time.

And it was hard for me to talk about it because people didn’t understand it and would offer advice like, “You are 20 years, you can race your bike every day, and you have achieved all those things.” so I was almost kind of ashamed to talk about it.

And then at some point, I realized it is not the results that I race for, it is actually the love of the sport. I really feel like those two years where I felt pretty shitty actually gave me five years of experience.

It is not the results that I race for, it is the love for the sport.

And this year [2018] has been pretty much my best year so far. I have only had a couple races of this season, but so far, it’s been going well, and I feel like those two bad years really helped me to be where I am now.

Christian: What helped you to recover from that moment?

Niek: I started talking with other people. I also felt at some point I will start feeling well again, but it has taken me a little longer than I wanted to. I started to go to a coach, I wouldn’t say a mental coach, and it is not, that you go there and the next day you feel better. But I went there and then I slowly started to realize, that I shouldn’t focus on the results too much, I should do it because I like it and just do what I want and not think about the expectations of others.

I slowly started to realize, that I shouldn’t focus on the results, I should do it because I like it, and not think about the expectations of others.

Others have seen me be the World Champion and they expected me to do the same thing, at least that’s the way I felt. And at some point, I thought, “I don’t care what others think, what others want, I do what I want.”

At that point I started to enjoy riding again, to enjoy training. When you are enjoying it, you are riding better, and when you are riding better you are enjoying it even more, so it was getting more and more positive. So, I think it’s just a process, it’s not one thing that helps you get over it.

When you are enjoying it, you are riding better, and when you are riding better, you are enjoying it even more.

Niek’s best moment

Christian: What was your best moment?

Niek: I think my biggest achievement would be the Elite World title, the World Championship title as a senior, but for me, personally my Junior World Championship title means even more because coming into the Junior World Champs 2014 I really felt like the favorite and it was in my home country. And to deal with the pressure I felt, the pressure I put myself under, and then finally to actually go out, make it happen and become Junior World Champion, that meant a lot to me. It was the first time that I wanted to win something so badly and actually won it.

To deal with the pressure I felt, the pressure I put on myself, and then finally to actually go out and make it happen to become Junior World Champion, that meant a lot to me.

My Elite World title, of course, it’s my biggest win probably. But I didn’t feel like I went into the Elite World Champs as the favorite, so I didn’t feel as much pressure, I was just doing my thing, so that’s why I feel like my Junior World title means more to me.

Niek’s advise to a younger Niek Kimmann

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

Niek: Everyone makes mistakes every now and then, but I also think a lot of mistakes made me who I am now. I learned from them, and I don’t want to miss them. I would just say to the younger Niek don’t stress too much, do your thing and do what you feel like doing and not what others tell you to do. Basically, don’t try to live for others’ expectation, just do what feels right for you.

Don’t try to live for other people’s expectations, just do what feels right for you.

Niek’s success habits

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

Niek: I am 21 years, I don’t want to say I am that successful. I hope I can still achieve some more nice things in my career. But I think the fact that I love BMX so much and I have always wanted to be good in the sport definitely helped to achieve what I have achieved.

When I was 9, I was already skipping birthday parties, because I had a race the next day. So, I think doing that for so many years over and over and not because someone is telling you to, but because I wanted to, I was already living like an athlete even before I was a professional athlete.

I was already living like an athlete even before I was a professional athlete.

In school the only thing I thought about was BMX. When I was on the road and I was driving through the mountains I would see the mountain tops and imagined they were jumps and just dream about how I would jump it.

I would wake up with BMX and go to bed with BMX. And I think, if you live BMX basically 24/7, at some point you just get to be good at it, that’s what I believe.

Christian: There is one thing I have noted down. There is this saying that the last thing a fish notices is the water around him. But what I want to say is, that you told me that story about your dad, he made you and your brother work to get to the World Championships as kids. And because I have been working with you for six years now and seeing you being humble and a hard worker, I think that has also contributed to that.

Can you share the story and what you learned?

Niek: I grew up on a farm, and in 2007 the BMX World Championships were in Canada. I was 11 years old back then, and my parents had friends who moved to Canada a year before. So, we went to the World Champs, so I could race, and my parents could see their friends. I finished fifth in the semi, and only the first four guys made it through to the final.

I told my parents I want to have a revenge next year, and my parents were like, “The World Championships are in China, are you crazy or what?”

I said, “I really want to go.” And my parents were like, “If you make half the money for the trip we will put in the other half.”

That next year I would help my dad to milk the cows every day, and at some point, I had enough money, so that I and my brother went to China for the World Champs and we both made the main [final]. I think that really taught me, that if you want something you have to work for it.

If you want something, you have to work for it.

And also growing up on a farm, I saw my dad and other people around me working 24/7. Being a farmer is not like a 9:00 to 5:00 job, and I feel like being an athlete is the same thing, you wake up with it and you go to bed with it.

Seeing them work and not making that much money is really something that keeps me humble. I don’t want to buy very expensive things, because it just doesn’t seem right for me when I see them work, they work harder than I do and don’t make a lot of money. It just doesn’t feel right for me doing something I like and to act like I am some superhuman or something.

I think my roots are really what keeps me humble. I just race BMX, I am just a guy who likes to race his bike, I can travel the world, but I’m not going to act like I am some superstar.

I am just a guy who likes to race his bike, I can travel the world, but I’m not going to act like I am some superstar.

Christian: And to add to the story, Niek forgot to mention, that his dad never took the money, he saved the money for you.

Niek: Yes. Five years after the World Champs in China, they told me that they never took the money for the trip. They wanted to see if we really wanted it, and at that point, we showed them we really wanted it.

So, that was their goal, to show us that we have to work for something. I really want to thank my parents for that.

Christian: I think it’s a very cool story. I like it.

Niek’s morning routine

Christian: Do you have a morning routine? I know you are not a morning person, so how do you get yourself ready? Your work ethic is good when you hit the gym in the mornings. How do you get yourself ready despite not being a morning person?

Niek: I love racing BMX, I love BMX more than anything else, but when I wake up in the morning I just don’t want to do it. I wake up, drink some water, get a coffee. I like coffee, therefore I also drink a lot of water to stay hydrated.

Then I take a moment to relax, get in the car, play some good music and then I take my breakfast here Papendal. Once I am awake for an hour or two I am good to go.

Once I am in the gym and I am warmed up and sweating, then that’s where I feel like my day starts. Don’t talk to me before that. I’m not going to be a jerk, but I won’t talk a lot.

That’s my morning routine, get out of bed, start doing some things, start waking up my body, and once I have done that I am good to go.

Once I am in the gym and I am warmed up and sweating, that’s where I feel like my day starts.

How to prepare for important moments

Christian: How do you prepare yourself for important moments in competitions?

Niek: Before a big race I like to be alone, I like to feel bored and to have nothing on my mind, nothing to stress about. Some people hate it when they feel bored, but I actually feel it’s a moment to relax, to get in tune with yourself, almost like a bit of meditation. I feel like when you are excited you start stressing about it the race.

For big races, I do get stressed sometimes, but I just focus on my breathing and focus on myself. I don’t think about the results, I just think about the process and the first things, that I have to do. So, I like to only focus on my first round like if it’s going to be a quarter-final or semi-final, just focus on that lap and then everything else will follow.

For big races I do get stressed sometimes, but I just focus on my breathing and focus on myself. I just think about the process, the things, that I have to do and then everything else will follow.

Christian: I know you remember that moment at the Olympic Games in Rio when you fell from five meters, crashed, your bike broke into pieces, you picked up the bike and carried it over the finish line and secured a point, and that point also brought you to the semi-finals. Maybe we can find a video somewhere and link it.

Check out the video, even though the commentary is in dutch, you will be able to see what happened.

(At the end of the video you can see Niek’s brother Justin, who couldn’t believe Niek started in the following race in the first place, after the severity of the crash, and he couldn’t believe how Niek managed to get 4th in that following race).

Christian: What went through your head then?

Niek: Actually, before the jump, I knew things weren’t going right. I had nowhere to go and I didn’t have enough speed, I knew I was going to crash, so I wanted to try to make the injuries as small as possible.

When I crashed and fell, it didn’t hurt that much, but of course, it’s the Olympics, and I wasn’t feeling the pain because of all the adrenaline.

So, I started running and every second the pain started to get worse. If you look back at the video, you will see I started running and after a couple meters I started running slower and it goes into walking until I could barely walk anymore.

Somehow, I made it to the finish line. I’m glad I did it because I really needed that one point to make it through to the next round.

But at the moment it was just adrenaline. The Olympics it’s one of those days, where no matter how tough it is, or how much pain you are in, you do anything you can.

After that lap I was in tears, not because of pain but because I literally saw my dream fading away. That’s why I started running because I was hoping for the best. I crossed the line, taped my ankle, took painkillers, raced the next lap. Of course, it was far from perfect with all the pain, but I made it through.

After that lap I was in tears, not because of pain from the crash, but because I literally saw my dream fading away.

Any other race I would have pulled out, but it was the Olympics. I told myself, if I couldn’t walk for the next three months, I wouldn’t care, because I want to make the most out of it. If I want to have another shot I have to wait four years.

Somehow, I managed to make it into the Olympic final. My riding wasn’t great, obviously. But a good thing about BMX is, it’s a lot about tactics as well, so by riding smart I could make my way into that Olympic final.

Looking back at it I’m not proud of how I rode, but I’m really proud of how I mentally got back after that crash and still managed to make it to the main [final].

I like BMX, I like watching videos. I never, never watched a replay of the Olympics, because I just didn’t like the way how I was riding. But when I think back to it I feel positive that at the end of the day I still made the Olympic final.

Any other race I would have pulled out, but it was the Olympics. I told myself, if I couldn’t walk for the next three months, I wouldn’t care, because if I want to have another shot, I have to wait four years.

How Niek overcomes setbacks

Christian: How do you overcome setbacks? What do you do, if things don’t go your way?

Niek: I think that’s something I’m naturally not really good at. When a race goes wrong, then I am really pissed. I think I am always the quiet guy, but in those moments I don’t think properly, I just get so angry, especially when I feel like I could have performed way better.

I am pissed for an hour or two before it could have been a couple of days, but now it’s an hour or two. And then I think about the fact, that it was just one race and the next weekend there’s probably going to be another race for me to perform again.

In a sport like BMX, you need to have some luck every now and then, and you can also have bad luck every now and then, but it is what it is, make the most out of it and try to look at the bigger picture basically.

It’s not like the last day in your life, there are going to be more days and you are going to have more opportunities to do well. I think the main thing is to look at the bigger picture.

In a sport like BMX, you need to have some luck every now and then, and you can also have bad luck every now and then, make the most out of it and look at the bigger picture.

Christian: There is one thing I wanted to touch on, I think it was your first World Cup here in Papendal, 2014 and you missed the final by a centimeter or two. And I remember you were very affected by that. How did you come back from that moment?

Niek: I was still a Junior back then, so I was really happy, that I made it to the semi-final. I know, that there are some people when they have reached their goal, it is hard to be motivated after that. In this example, if their goal was to make semi-final, when they have reached that goal, they just lose their focus, because they are so happy.

But I am not like that, when I got to that semi-final, even though it was my first time ever semi-final in a World Cup, I thought I could do be even better and I can make the main [final]. I was in fourth place the whole race and in the last turn someone made the move in front of me, so I had to pull the brakes a little bit and I got passed right at the finish line.

It was my first semifinal ever, I was still a junior and I was 17 years old. Looking back at it, it was a great performance, but at that moment I was so pissed because I wanted to be in the main so badly. I was pissed for a couple hours but then I looked at the bigger picture, I knew there were more races coming. And I knew I was racing well that day, so I knew next year or next month, next week maybe, there were going to be more races.

Then the next year I was first year elite [senior], at that point I have never made a World Cup main [final] before. Normally when I raced in the World Cups, I felt like whatever I do is just to gain experience, but that morning I woke up and I felt, “This race is not to gain experience, this race I can actually make a main today, and maybe even more.”

I made the main and I was so stoked I made the main. I heard the crowd screaming for me, while I was on the gate, and then it gave me such a boost, and I actually won that final. The year before I was really pissed, and then the year after it was one of my best races ever I think.

I heard the crowd screaming for me, while I was on the gate, that gave me such a boost, and I actually won that final.

Niek’s role model

Christian: Who is your role model, and why?

Niek: I think I never really had a role model. When people asked me, “Who do you want to be when you grow older?” I never wanted to be someone else, I always wanted to be Niek, but to be a better Niek than I was, so I don’t have one role model.

I never wanted to be someone else, I always wanted to be Niek, but to be a better Niek than I was.

Of course, I have guys that I look up to. Any athlete who can perform under pressure that’s something I really respect because I know how hard it is to be in that main, something you trained for, for I don’t know how many years and to make it happen in that moment, I feel like athletes who do that, that’s something I really do respect.

Like for example, Usain Bolt, because it’s only a 10-second race, 9 seconds. And because I know it’s win or lose, it’s only a couple of hundredths of a second and to be able to perform in those moments, it’s something I really respect. I don’t think I have one role model, but if I had to pick one it would be him.

The best advice he ever received

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

Niek: I think from being a kid to being a professional athlete, the people who teach you how to ride a bike, when you start and then coaches you get throughout the years, I think everyone has something to teach you, so it’s hard for me to pick one thing.

Basically, everyone with more experience than you has something to teach you, and I think it’s up to you to see what you can use, what works for you. I think everyone who has helped me throughout the years has taught me something, but it’s hard for me to pick one thing.

I think it started with my dad, when I was 9 or 10 he taught me “You have to set goals for yourself and then go after it and try to achieve it.” I think that’s really where it started, to really work towards your goal at such a young age.

And of course, with only setting goals you are not going to achieve things, there is more stuff you need to do. But I really think that’s where it started and it’s still something you do every day, so I think that would be the one.

Everyone with more experience than you, has something to teach you, and it’s up to you to see what you can use.

Christian: That’s an interesting one. You also told me you have goals over your bed, we don’t need to share what the goals are. You have that written down and you look at it basically every day. Since when have you done that?

Niek: Since when I was 11 maybe. At the beginning of the year, I write my goals on a paper, put them in my bedroom, so I see them every day. I even put them in my closet and when I take clothes I see them. It’s not like I’m opening my closet to see it, but it’s a trigger to look at it every single day.

Even though you are not reading them on purpose, they are still on your mind. And I feel like at the moment when you need it, it’s already there in your brain without you deliberately thinking about it. So, it’s something I believe in and I have done my whole life.

At the beginning of the year, I write my goals on a paper, put them in my bedroom, so that I see them every day.

Christian: You said obviously goal setting in itself is not everything. You see the goals every time, and then what do you do?

Niek: For example, when you are in the World Champs final, when I am on the gate, I feel like I have done that race like a hundred times before. I feel like I have done it already, I feel like mentally I know what I am there for and I know what my goal is.

And the funny thing is, Justin, my little brother, sometimes when I’m in bed, he is in the bedroom next to me and just out of nowhere starts screaming like he is the announcer “The gate slams down, Niek Kimmann, the 2015 World Champion is going to do it again” and similar stuff.

I feel like if you can think about it in a fun way like maybe dream about it, then I feel like when the moment is there, your body knows what it has to do because your mind has already done it. I really like that as something, that could give that last couple percent that you needed at the moment like that.

I feel like, when the moment is there, your body knows what it has to do, because your mind has already done it.

Christian: That is interesting. When I spoke to Aleksey Torokhtiy, he’s an Olympic weightlifter, who won in London Olympics 2012, he said the same thing, he visualizes big moments, so when the big moment comes, he knows he has done it before.

Niek: Yes, exactly. When I think about it like that, I actually feel the nerves, like I am actually in the main already, even if it’s three or four months before. And I feel like, when I dream or think about it like that, then I can visualize it with a positive outcome, and it’s something that really helps on your end.

If you start thinking, “I’m going to crash, I’m going to mess up my gate, I’m going to slip away on a turn”, then you start stressing yourself out. But I feel like when you visualize things in a positive way, it can really help you.

I feel like, when I dream or think about it, then I can visualize it with a positive outcome.

A typical training day in the life of BMX Supercross rider

Christian: How does a typical training day look?

Niek: Wake up in the morning, grab a coffee, hop in the car, take breakfast, start training. And then in the morning, it could be strength training, it could be sprints, it could be anything. Have lunch, go back to my house, have some rest, then go back to Papendal again, have another lunch then start training again.

In the afternoon it could be like sprints, track, it could be anything. Normally we train twice a day. And then after that, dinner, go back, chill with my brother in our house or maybe with some friends, and that’s it. That’s basically it, nothing special.

Where can you find Niek Kimmann

Christian: Where can people find you?

Niek: You can find me on all social media platforms, Instagram, Facebook and I have a Youtube Channel.

Christian: Thank you Niek, that was a really cool interview.

Niek: Thank you, you are welcome.

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