Thomas Kjer Olsen reflects on his Latvian crash and considering his future
MX2 Grand Prix winner, European Champion and Denmark’s best world championship rider for almost twenty years, Thomas Kjer Olsen, is not ruling out an MXGP comeback after his Latvian GP accident.
When Thomas Kjer Olsen hit the jump at Kegums for the 2022 Grand Prix of Latvia in April, the Dane, who turned 25 that same weekend, was still one of the ‘riders to watch’ in MXGP and for what was the beginning of his second term in the premier class. Olsen ejected from the bike, landed heavily on his head, broke his C1 vertebra and was placed into a medically induced coma.
Although the former European Champion was able to make a decent recovery and flew to his base in Belgium within a few weeks of the accident, his return to a dirtbike has been protracted, eight months after the spill that ironically occurred at the scene of his very first MX2 Grand Prix win in 2017 (also in 2018 for the second of his five career triumphs).
Olsen recently posted a video of him riding the DIGA Procross KTM on his Instagram account but, to the dismay of fans, quickly had to add a message that it was pre-crash footage. “I wouldn’t be that fast after eight months away from the bike!” he jokes over the phone.
Olsen’s neck fracture and brain injury has meant a steady but slow trajectory to the point where he can consider laps on a motocross track once more. Right now he’s keeping fit.
“I’m doing as much as I can but my neck is really stiff and it would be a challenge to ride at the moment and be relaxed enough to flow,” he says. “I’m physically training every day and that’s actually the best thing after a brain injury; the doctors told me that it was a very positive thing that I was in such good shape when I crashed.”
While he admits he has been through the spectrum of emotion, doubts and determination that follows a life-changing incident and a career-halting accident, Olsen is still undecided about whether he can and will be a top grand prix rider once again.
“I’ve been thinking a lot about it,” he admits. “I want to at least try and see if I can get back in shape and get back to speed and to give it a go this winter. I want to ride a bit more and see how it goes, make small steps. I’m not worried about my vision or focus when I try to ride again, I’m confident that it’s good. It was a big question I had for myself but, honestly, right now when I am cycling and doing some mountain bike I don’t feel it is any worse than before. My reflexes are good…I’m just still struggling with the neck.”
It would be easy to contextualise Olsen’s crash and predicament alongside his peer Arminas Jasikonis, who suffered a brain injury in a vaguely similar spill at Mantova, Italy during 2020. The Lithuanian convalesced and made his way back to MXGP but struggled to reproduce his speed and potential and withdrew from Grand Prix midway through 2022 to take stock. However, Olsen is not yet at the stage where he can effectively evaluate his future as a racer, and as much as he appreciates the state of his health the former Husqvarna star feels upended by the accident.
“A lot of people ask me whether I feel lucky that I can still walk again…but my view, at the moment, is that I was unlucky,” Thomas offers. “My career was still so young and I still had a lot to achieve. I wanted to battle to be top five in MXGP and that was my target. Of course, I’m happy I can feel my legs and everything else…but it’s difficult to wake up every day and be thankful for that.
“I really don’t know why I crashed and that scares me a bit,” he adds. “I’ve seen videos and there wasn’t a kicker and I didn’t hit neutral; that’s why I don’t know what actually happened.”
Olsen is young enough, good enough and hungry enough to plot a career course again but understandably there are questions over whether he can redevelop the potential that saw him finish top three in the MX2 world championship for three years in a row (before small injuries dropped him to 6th in 2020 and illness caused a modest MXGP debut term in 2021). If his competitiveness on a 450 does not re-emerge then ‘TKO’ is considering his next moves.
“For sure I’ve thought a lot about what will happen if I cannot get back on a bike again. It’s not a direction I’m completely sure about yet but perhaps something in coaching – which I haven’t really tried yet – or working on a team or staying in the industry in some way. I’m not ready to leave this sport and it would be good to see what opportunities there are.”
Words: Adam Wheeler
Image: Ray Archer