Interview: Thomas Kjer Olsen – working for his first world title!
Thomas Kjer Olsen had a very strong season in MX2 in 2019 taking second place overall in the championship, winning the British GP and winning the MX2 class at the Nations in Assen.
It all came despite a difficult situation within the team once it was announced that long-time manager Jacky Martens would be leaving the squad at the end of the year, but Olsen kept his focus and his speed to be the closest challenger to a dominant Jorge Prado.
2020 will be Olsen’s last year in the class, it is his last chance to win an MX2 world title and, with new team structure behind him and a strong, determined work ethic, the quiet but amiable and down-to-earth Dane is focused on giving everything to win his maiden world motocross championship.
Tom Jacobs caught up with Olsen to discuss the season, and get to know the person under the helmet just that little bit more.
Has making a good living at motocross changed how you deal with money?
No it hasn’t. For sure I enjoy myself in the off-season, I don’t worry that much at all. I was on holiday with some of my friends and they just have a normal salary and they saying, ‘I have to save a little bit now.” It’s easy for me to catch onto that, I do make a little bit, it’s not a crazy amount of money but I like living well. It hasn’t changed me a lot, I didn’t grow up in a rich family or anything I’m still quite humble with buying stuff. It would be nice to buy a nice looking car or something but I think it’s going to have to wait until the 450 days!
During the season you don’t spend a lot of money anyway, you are so caught up in the whole motocross thing. It’s mostly in the off-season you treat yourself.
Who are you most similar too, your dad or you mum?
I would say I’m more like my mum but the same type of humour as my dad, sometimes I catch myself making bad jokes and I’m like, that’s something my dad would say and I’ll be a little bit disappointed with myself! I have a great relationship with my parents, especially my mum, I talk a lot with her on the phone, my dad when we talk on the phone, it’s more about motocross with my mum it’s more personal.
How was it to leave your family at quite a young age?
For sure it’s always difficult to leave home because I have a brother and sister. When I was leaving I was the only child living at home so I was having a great time! I basically had half the house to myself, my mum was cooking at washing my clothes. When I had to move away there was a lot I had to do myself, but I caught onto it quick.
I was lucky to have Rasmus with me, that made the step a lot easier, just to have somebody there that I have known most of my life and to talk Danish once in a while, that made it a lot easier. My brother was in Italy for a bit by himself and he had a hard time, I knew it was not going to be easy but looking back three years have passed pretty quick, but even now I’m adapting to living in Lommel more and more.
Do you have a girlfriend?
No, so I got some time on my own so it’s going all right. It can be difficult to have a girlfriend when you are racing, it is possible and many guys have it. At the moment I’m currently single – I don’t know what’s going to happen in the future!
Your brother did EMX, is there something you have learned from him?
For sure, there was a lot of things. He went to the GPs one year, even growing up I learnt so much stuff in riding techniques from him. Sure, we don’t have the same style but I still looked a lot at him and he probably pushed me also because I wanted to be better than him. I took at a lot of stuff from when he went pro, if you go and have a tough year the next year you will have to pay or ride for free. So I thought I would do one more year in EMX and do well and put yourself in a good position and it worked out well and we got into a factory team.
You did well from the start of the first GP season, you have been almost at a similar level for three years, but what do you think you have improved?
Even though I thought I was ready for GPs, I feel like I have matured so much, I learned about nutrition and training and my own body, how it reacts to a long season. Like I mentioned before, even living in Belgium, you become more comfortable with it, you learn how to test your bike and what works in a GP situation.
It’s a lot different, when I go test I really have to think about, okay this works when I test here, but will it work really work like this on a GP track. Because the intensity it so high, you tend to ride a little bit more stiff than you do during practice, it is different. Many times I try something in testing and think it’s the best set-up ever and it we come to the GP and I can’t ride with it. It’s stuff like that you learn.
Like you said, I came out firing straight away and I surprised myself so straight away you put your expectations up there so it’s really easy to be disappointed then.
How would you rate your season this year?
I’m quite happy, I really gave my all. Sometimes things don’t go the way you want it and you are questioning yourself. One weekend you can win easily or get on the podium and think you rode like shit. And the next weekend you ride your heart out and get fifth or something like that and wonder what happened.
I was happy with my season because I always put 100% out there, it was never like I was going to settle for this or settle for that. I had a few crashes and a few small injuries, so that was a little bit tough to deal with but luckily no broken bones.
I just want to acknowledge you also in the work you did this year off the bike, I think we saw a little bit different TKO, you were more open to the public and media and tried to open up, I guess that’s a challenge for you?
It is a challenge! I’m from Scandinavia and we are not so outspoken, it’s something I want to be better at, being open and have time for people. When I started out in GPs I was just there for the motocross, the racing. It’s not always my favourite thing to sign autographs but being social is something I really want to be better at, that’s been better and hopefully I can keep progressing like that, it makes me feel better too.
We had a Husqvarna/KTM dinner the other day and it’s great to go there and put yourself in uncomfortable positions, that’s quite a challenge sometimes (for me) but you just have to go for it. It’s nice, you get to talk to the people that are building and developing your bike. For them to have direct contact with me, it’s also something they appreciate a lot. They get their information from three or four other guys so it’s sometimes it’s nice for them to ask me some questions directly.
Is is difficult to adjust to a people seeing you as a star and a role model?
I’m not good with seeing myself like that, it’s difficult. I have people telling me sometimes, ‘you have the dream job,’ and I do love my job but they see one side of it like I did when I was younger. It looks easy and nice, but it’s not always that easy. I could still do more for Danish motocross, it’s great having people come up to me and taking pictures with them or signing autographs.
Does it bug you that you don’t get more recognition in Denmark? You are the best motocross rider from there ever!
I would love the sport to go forward but I am a little bit laid back! I’m not chasing the fame so much, I think other people in Denmark would like me to push more that way but I’m just not that way. But every time I go back to Denmark it’s great to see people come up to me and talk, some of my family and friends say they watch me and they don’t follow motocross, just because of me. Making some new people watch motocross, it means a lot.
With the team itself, it has obviously been a little bit weird with the split from Jacky. How did these problems affect you as a rider?
I tried to shut it out a bit. I won’t lie, there was a bit of tension in the team but I have people really close to me, Rasmus, my mum and dad and brother and my friends so when I’m at the GP I keep those guys around me. When we were at the races the team was also good at playing nice. I can’t deny there was some troubles but we got through it. The atmosphere was not the greatest to be honest, the news came out pretty early and I knew already then, we all agreed we would play nice but when a split like that happens, somebody is always going to a bit negative.
Next year is a big year, the only way is one spot higher!
Next year is my last year, I have to move up in 2021. I’m looking forward to next year, we have already done a bit of testing on the bike to try and get as comfortable as early as possible. I honestly can say the last couple of years I have put everything into it. I’m going to take everything I learned in previous years and try and put it together.
What do you think you have to do to make that next step?
I would say the training and recovery. The season is so long it’s difficult to recover. You feel it at the end of the season, you are sluggish, you fly to China. You get sickness, I experienced it first hand, I got food poisoning in Turkey then you have to fly to China the next week. The off-season is so important to put in the hours, I have never been afraid to work hard.
What would be something that people would not know about you?
I don’t know how I look from the outside so that is kind of difficult to say. But I like to do and follow a lot of sports. I’m into Basketball, we do a one man sport, I’m the only one of the bike. Getting into team sports is something I enjoy, it’s completely opposite to what we do. In basketball you pass the ball and he scores, it’s a team effort.
That’s how I think it should be in racing too, all the mechanics in my team we have a great bound and that makes the atmosphere so much better, all of them are my buddies, I go there (to the workshop) just to hang out with them!
There are points when it needs to be serious but there are times when I just like to give them shit – that’s what I enjoy!
Interview: Tom Jacobs
Feature Image: Bavo