‘Be less greedy!’ says Twan van Gendt – Olympic athletes interviewed Episode 1

This interview features Twan van Gendt, double Olympian BMX Super Cross outlines, that he had a serious crash prior to the Rio Olympic Games 2016 putting him in danger not to qualify for the Olympic games.
How he managed to fight back and qualified for the Olympics. That he focused on the wrong things (in his own words) for a long time in his career and much more…

This article and video discusses

In this interview it’s my pleasure to introduce double Olympian Twan van Gendt, who I have been fortunate to be part of his journey, to a successful athlete in BMX racing.

Twan and I started working together in 2010, we have been working through two Olympic cycles and are currently in the third Olympic Cycle.

Twan’s darkest moment

Christian: Twan, what was your darkest moment?

Twan: As a BMX athlete you crash more many times, but the timing of the crash is sometimes not ideal. If I look back at the crash I had before London Olympic Games 2012 or last Olympics in Rio 2016, my darkest moment then was working four years again for another Olympic cycle and then crashing April 2016 before the Rio Olympics.

My dream of getting the medal faded away.

In London 2012 I placed fifth, so I worked four years for the other spots, better than the fifth place. And then I crashed, and maybe I couldn’t go to the Olympics anymore.

That was a really rough period.

Eventually it all went well, but at first, it was really hard to come back off that.

Christian: How did you recover from the moment?

Twan: Well, it started with the injuries. I had six weeks until the World Championships, and I had to do better than the guy who was standing in fourth place in the national ranking.

I was the guy in third because I crashed out and I couldn’t get the results at World Cup. So, other guys were catching me, chasing me, and I dropped from second to third place. And the guy in fourth was really getting in shape and really riding well.

I had a difficult task to be back at the level I was in six weeks. We did it with a good team around me. We did strength training, physio, I got some laser treatments for bone recovery because I had a broken collarbone and a few broken ribs.

So, it was all a team effort, but it also took a lot out of me mentally.

Christian: How did you keep on track mentally?

Twan: I have one goal, and I keep that goal in mind, so everything gets a lot easier. You know it’s realistic to still work for the goal and it was still reachable, but it wasn’t going to be easy.

I have one goal, and I keep that goal in mind, so everything gets a lot easier.

I did it in the past; before London 2012 I got injured 10 weeks before the Olympics, and that was in the earlier stage. But I still had to qualify for the 2016 Olympics.

Christian: Looking back at London, in my opinion, you were still young, so there was not a lot of expectations from you. But in 2016 you were one of the best in the world, and there were more expectations.

Twan: Yes, definitely more expectations. London was really good for me, I went to the Olympics 2016 and ended in fifth place. No one had expected that, not even me.

And then in Rio, I was going there as one of the fastest in the world. But unfortunately, I crashed and placed ninth overall.

Christian: There’s one more moment I wanted to touch on, the Papendal World Cup 2011.

Twan: The first year?

Christian: Yes. (for the reader: to qualify for the BMX World Cup, you have to qualify in the time trial event, where fastest 64 riders qualify).

You crashed 10 meters before the finish line, jumped back on the bike, crossed the finish line, ended up in 65th place and missed the qualification

Twan: That was rough. It was the first World Cup here in Papendal, and I was going into the last turn as top 16 rider, 13th place or something overall. That was a really good time for me back then.

But I clocked and lost control of my bike, crashed, stood up and placed 65. That was tough, but I learned a lot from it.

Christian: What did you learn?

Twan: First, I was way too greedy at that time. I went over the edge and eventually, it cost me my prior participation in the World Cup. That was the thing I learned from it.

Time trials were never really my thing. And this was obvious with things like being in the top 16th position and then crashing on the last straight and then eventually you’re not even in the race.

And if I was racing, top 16 should have been possible, but I couldn’t even get the chance to achieve that because I wasn’t even racing.

Christian: And the next year you came second? Or you made it to the final?

Twan: No. The next year it was 2012. I won the semifinal and made it to the final. Then in the final, I was in the third position, but somebody hit me and we both crashed.

And that crash broke my shoulder 10 weeks before the Olympics in London.

Twan’s best moment

Christian: What was your best moment?

Twan: I have to say Red Bull Revolution 2012. It was my first international race at the elite level and  I won.

And also at the Olympic Games 2012 a month before this race, I performed way better than everyone expected. That has been the best moment of my career.

Standing there in the Olympic final, in lane two, almost like a dream position with 1.5 million people at home who were watching that race, that was a special moment for me.

Standing in the Olympic final with 1.5 million people watching was a special moment.

Christian: I also remember that. I think your performance in the Olympics was really outstanding, it was really great.

Twan: I’m really proud of that moment, I still am. I placed fifth and I placed third in the time trial, but I was really proud of how I rode there.

Christian: I remember there were also quite a few races within the Olympics where you were first and second. You had a really amazing starts and you came out on top.

Twan: Yes, I came out on top, and I was riding with the current World Champion and the current Olympic Champion of that period, and I was beating them.

I was racing with them and they were beating me as well, but eventually, they ended up winning and got the gold medal and silver medal, and I got the fifth place.

If you look at the last semi we rode, I came out on top and they were like second, third and fourth.

And eventually one lap later they got all the medals. Then you feel like, “Maybe I blew it a little bit.” But I was still young then.

Christian: What did you learn from that moment?

Twan: It’s a good moment. Me and Connor Fields were next to each other, lane one and lane two. My start was better, and I knew he was faster in the first race, so I went a little bit to the inside and then he was hitting me from behind. And then I overshoot, he overshot, and we just messed it up for each other at that time.

What have I learned from it?

Well, in Rio 2016 I wanted to do a little better, but eventually, I crashed in the first round, the first lap and tore my knee apart. I was still racing after it, but I wasn’t in good shape, and I wasn’t good enough for a medal anymore. That’s what I knew when I stood up, and I made the best out of it. And I still made it to the semi-final and missed the final by just a few centimeters.

But what I learned from London 2012 is never focus on the guy next to you; focus on yourself.

Never focus on the guys next to you, focus on yourself.

Twan’s advice to his younger self

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

Twan: Be less greedy and try to enjoy the experiences more.

On the gate, I was focusing on my competitors and what could go wrong sometimes. But now I would focus on different things.

Christian: Such as?

Twan: Just be the best version of myself. You have no influence on the people next to you on the gate, the only influence you have is on how you perform.

Be the best version of yourself, you have no influence on the people next to you, the only influence you have is how you perform.

I learned a lot from it, and I think I’m doing that at the moment really well.

Twan’s success habits

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

Twan: Well, one of my habits is when I’m in the gym and I have a good day where I’m just lifting more than I ever could. If I have a good day I can blow the existing boundaries apart and just set new boundaries for myself.

And I think that’s one of the things that helps me to be successful – constantly wanting to step it up, and I don’t want to make it easy for myself most of the times.

If I have a good day I can blow the existing boundaries apart and just set new boundaries for myself.

That’s what I like the most about doing sports for a living because you can just step it up every single time. You might not break boundaries every single day, but you can if you have a good day.

If I’m having a good day I’m really going for it, and I try to get the max out of myself and out of that training. I think that and my habits in training helps me as an athlete.

When I’m at home I just want to be at home and not focus too much on sports.

Christian: I also think commitment and determination is something that you have from what I’ve seen over the last eight years.

Twan’s morning routine

Christian: Do you have a morning routine or any routine you’re following in the mornings or throughout the day to get you ready?

Twan: Yes. When the alarm goes off, I switch it off, that’s something you do every single day, it’s a really basic thing. And after that I have breakfast, most of the times it’s the same thing, but it’s healthy and I like it. Most of the time I’ll have some Greek yogurt with fruits and fibers in it, and sometimes a little bit of chocolate depending on how bad I want it.

In the mornings sometimes I’ll have a coffee, this is not really a routine, but when I feel like I could use a cup of coffee in the morning, I’ll get coffee.

But the only real routine I have is to switch off the alarm when I wake up.

How to prepare for important moments

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

Twan: The same way I prepare myself for every other race.

If I look back on the seven/eight years I’m riding professionally now, I wanted to race in every race I competed in. Whether it was the World Championships or it a small race in the national championships or national series, I’m on the gate, and when the gate drops I want to win.

Whether it’s the World Championships or a small national race, when the gate drops I want to win.

I prepare myself for that by just being focused. When I started racing, I wasn’t the best, I made mistakes. But I got sharper and sharper because I wanted to delete all the mistakes I made. And so, I’m just checking boxes like, “That one is better, that one is better, that is one better.”

You see my lap times going down. And as soon as it really needs to be on point, I’m there when I want to be.

How Twan overcomes setbacks

Christian: How do you overcome setbacks when things don’t go your way? Having worked with you, I know you can be affected if things don’t go your way, but you always manage to come back somehow. How do you do that?

Twan: I can be really affected, especially in the past. And how I come back is just go back to the basics.

I love the sport, I love what I do, and I want to get the best out of myself. And if I come back from an injury, I go back to those points, and most of the times I’ll ride one of the best races of the season because I go back to those points.

Twan’s role model

Christian: Do you have a role model? If yes, who is it, and why?

Twan: I’m not really a guy who is looking at documentaries or other things. If I see the performance of Usain Bolt, he’s still very impressive as a sprint athlete. Being around for such a long time and achieving what he has is not easy, especially in the 100-meter sprint, it’s a hard discipline. I like that, but it’s not like he’s a role model for me. I like what he has done and what he has achieved.

And next to that, she’s not my role model, but I just try to have as much fun as I can have with my girlfriend, she inspires me. She’s not an athlete, she’s in business, but she’s really enjoying it and trying to get the best out of herself, and it motivates me to do the same.

The best advice he ever received

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

Twan: It comes back to my girlfriend again.

Christian: What did she say?

Twan: Well, I was focusing on the wrong things in my career, and last year I really worked on that and had the most consistent year of my career, actually the most consistent season.

I was focusing on the wrong things in my career.

And even without being in my healthiest shape, I was winning the World Cup and going on podiums on the European championships. That felt really, really good.

Christian: So, the outside perspective of someone has definitely helped.

Twan: Yes. The outside perspective of someone really helped because you’re focusing on something for years, and then somebody who is not involved in sports looks at it and they’re like, “What are you doing?”

And they drag you out and look at it from a little distance, and then you see it yourself and try to improve or add a little different spin to see how it works out.

Those small things can really help you as an athlete, but not only as an athlete, just as a person as well.

A typical training day

Christian: How does a typical training day look?

Twan: Well, waking up, pressing off the alarm.

Christian: That seems to be a big thing for you.

Twan: Because then it’s all starting again.

Monday is the heaviest day for me in the week, the one I look forward to the most as well because you have a rest day on Sunday, you’re fresh, and you want to go back to work. And the gym session on Monday morning is always killer, I’ll get the max out of myself and then I feel it for the rest of the week, and the rest of the week is getting even harder because I did too much on Monday.

I get the max out of me, and then I feel it for the rest of the week.

That’s what a typical week looks like for me, so Monday I work really hard and then I suffer for the rest of the week.

And it’s also a small habit of mine to get the best out of myself and don’t think about the effects it can have after the training, just get caught up in the moment.

Christian: It can also be a strength.

Twan: Yes. That’s how most of my week looks like. If it’s before a race, then I’m really calm and I definitely know what I want to do. I don’t do too much, it just checks the boxes and makes sure I’m ready for what’s upcoming.

But the week is a gym session in the morning, training on the bike in the afternoon. And then on Tuesdays during the season we have one training, on Wednesday we have two training sessions again, for Thursday we have one training, Friday we have two, and Saturday we have races or training, and on the Sunday we have races. We also have races on Fridays, and if there are no races most of the time it’s a day off.

Twan’s interview nomination

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

Twan: Yes. I want to nominate Yoshitaku Nagasaki, he’s a little bit younger than me and he’s also an Olympian. He’s from Japan, and the next Olympic Games are Tokyo 2020, so I’m curious about what he has to tell.

National Champion in the Deadlift

Christian: You are also Dutch champion in the Deadlift, is that right?

Twan: Yes. Last year I competed for fun in a Deadlift competition. Friends from my hometown told me there was a competition in my hometown, and they more or less signed me up for the competition.

It all went a little bit better than I expected, and I ended up getting the title, it was pretty funny. It was cool, and if I have the chance to do it again, maybe I will do it.

Christian: You lifted 275 kilos at 83 kilos body weight by the way, which is quite impressive.

Twan: Yes, it was more than I expected to do. And we never really did normal Deadlifts in the program, we always have the Romanian Deadlifts ones at the end of the program, so I didn’t really know what I could lift for one rep.

But I ended up lifting 275 kg, and I think I could more, but I was running out of turns, that was my last attempt. If I could do it over, maybe I would have 300 kg as a goal, maybe somewhere in the future.

Christian: Always setting goals.

Twan: Always setting goals.

Where can you find Twan van Gendt

Christian: Where can people find out more about you?

Twan: On Facebook, Instagram, you can follow me and see a little bit of my life. I’m not showing too much, but when I want to show something I’ll put it on there.

Christian: Thanks, Twan, it was a good interview. Thank you.

Twan: Thank you.

Check out Twan van Gendt’s profile