2016 was different. In four yours you've matured and became a stronger rider. How much different were your expectations going in your second Olympic Games in Rio?
Laura Smulders: It was a whole different approach, and I knew what I was doing, what I was training for exactly, I already had the experience of one Olympic Games, and because I already had a medal, I wanted another one of course! My goal was to get on that podium again.
You're not longer on the National team but chose to ride for your own team. Did this cause any difficulties in Rio or did you feel part of Team Holland from the start?
Laura Smulders: Nobody had done this before, I was the first one to decide not to ride for the National Team any more, and still participate in the Olympic Games and ride for the Netherlands. We knew it wasn’t going to be a ‘normal’ road to the Games, but it worked out right. We had a lot of talks with the national team coach Bas de Bever, and also with the federation to make sure nothing would stand in the way of me performing at my best at the Rio Olympic Games.
How many days before you had to race were you present in Rio?
Laura Smulders: We arrived on Saturday before the race, so about a week before.
Did you get to see anything from the city?
Laura Smulders: Not in the week I was there for the Olympics. With the test event at the end of 2015, we couldn’t ride the track much so we had some time to do the sight seeing then. So I had pretty much seen all the big things in Rio a year before the Olympics.
Did you have any injuries leading up to the big race or was it smooth sailing all the way towards the big moment?
Laura Smulders: In the winter of 2014/2015 I hurt my knee pretty bad, this was a major setback but it made me stronger at the end. Dealing with an injury like that isn’t fun at that moment, but coming back after, and showing yourself you can get through stuff like that, only makes you more proud.
Once you're at the biggest platform for the most important race in four years, do you look at other riders or do you just focus on your own race?
Laura Smulders: I can only do my best, I don’t have any influence on other riders at the track, so I just focus on what I have to do for myself to get the best out of any race.
You made it to the finals with strong finishes. 2 - 1 - 1 in the semi-finals. With Caroline Buchanan out, another podium was a realistic goal. What happened in the finals?
Laura Smulders: I had a good gate, was in lane 2 between Mariana and Alise and went in their slipstream into the first turn. Realising I could try and cut them both off in the first turn, I went for it but just didn’t make it, lost some speed and went back to 4th. Went to chase Stefany down to the last straight and go for the pass on the last straight, but the race ended for me in the last turn. My front wheel slipped under me and I crashed.
How often have you watched the finals again?
Laura Smulders: Not very often, I know what happened, and it still hurts when I see it happen. Can’t do anything about that race anymore. And just want to look at what's ahead.
Laura Smulders: Of course after a race like that you start asking yourself some questions. Did I do something wrong? Should I maybe have taken other lines? But in a race like that you would try anything to get to the front of the pack. You just go with your instinct at that point and try and make it as far as possible. If I wouldn’t have tried, I would probably be angry at myself for not putting it all on the line.
You've had a great World Cup season winning the title in 2016. How much does that help for motivation towards the upcoming year(s)?
Laura Smulders: After the Olympics I was done with it for a bit, I think everyone struggles after that race to go back to training and finish the season with 2 UCI BMX SX World Cups to go. I knew I had a fair chance of winning the overall title, that got me back on my bike doing the preps for the last 2 races. After some rest and some fun training sessions I felt good to go, and won almost every lap in Rockhill and Sarasota, I think the only lap I’ve lost was one of the moto’s in Rockhill against my sister haha. It felt great to dominate those two races, although not all of the big names were present. But you can only win from the people that are present, and I was really happy to do that. Winning both of the World Cups and the Overall. Happy to finish my season with those wins. But also happy I could take some time off and get ready for upcoming seasons.
Four years from now, Tokyo 2020. Are you already thinking about that race or do you take it season by season and see where you're at in 2020?
Laura Smulders: Of course I thought about Tokyo 2020 already. I will definitely go for another Olympics. I’m still young so I’ve got loads of time. But I’ll take it season by season, you never know what’s going to happen, and there’s World Champs every year. I’ve won the Timetrail title before, but still don’t have that other one, really would be awesome to add that one to the list!
What do you like the most about the Olympic Games?
Laura Smulders: It’s the biggest race for us BMX’ers to compete at. Everyone is at their best and will give everything to get one of those medals. Racing at the Olympic Games is just at another level than other races. It’s an unbelievable event to take a part of and gives you great experiences.
Thanks to: My team, the staff and all the sponsors of the Team TVE Oegema for the last two years, supporting and believing in me no matter what!
Pics by Craig Dutton/The BMX Photographer/BdJ