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Monster athletes compete at the 2017 Supercross in Glendale, California

Eli Tomac: Ten minutes with greatness

Dec 062017

From his victorious and sensational debut as professional motocrosser at Hangtown in 2010 with just 17 years on his life clock, Eli Tomac has rarely been away from the pinnacle of his sport. ET’s focus, athleticism, capability and speed easily puts the Monster Energy Kawasaki rider (already a one time AMA 250SX Supercross champion and twice AMA Motocross number one) firmly in the same lineage as Carmichael, Stewart, Villopoto and Dungey.

The name already echoes loud in international MX and SX – Tomac has represented Team USA at the Motocross of Nations and has participated in European supercross events – and in the first five months of 2017 he duelled with Ryan Dungey in a gripping supercross championship campaign that went down to the final laps and turns at Las Vegas after seventeen rounds in eighteen weeks. Tomac lost out by just 5 points despite posting nine wins on the Monster Energy Kawasaki; his form automatically establishing him as a favourite for the recently-retired Dungey’s vacant throne cushion in 2018.

After just a few minutes with Eli in the confines of the Kawasaki team truck, parked on the plush lawn of the Sam Boyd Stadium at the 2017 Monster Energy Cup in Vegas – only five months after that curtain-dropper with Dungey – and Tomac is already laughing. There is a light sense of humour under the oft-serious demeanour, and a slightly shy character: typical of an athlete at this level who is highly in demand and who has occasionally been ‘singed’ by the spotlight.

"actually it is pretty crazy to think about it because as a kid I don’t believe I really expected to be in the position I am now: the number one 450 guy."

Going back to that first AMA Pro National in 2010 and a remarkable professional debut could you imagine your career and life to turn out like this?

After Hangtown and when we won…I’m trying to think back now: actually it is pretty crazy to think about it because as a kid I don’t believe I really expected to be in the position I am now: the number one 450 guy. You secretly hope for it but it is so far out there. It seems crazy to get to the position [of being #1]. I feel very fortunate but also a lot of work and time has been put into it. I don't know what else I can say but I feel grateful. We’ve been around. I’m almost 25 years old now but I feel like I have had a pretty awesome career so far and have been to some very cool places. It is neat to think I have been all over the world racing my motorcycle. I hope I have many more years in me.

There must have been arduous moments; times when you were not in love with it. If there is a downside to this sport then it is that everything tends to happen so young and so quickly…

Yeah, you have to make sacrifices as a kid. You are not going to college and you are not partying. You are not doing the normal things or what society would call ‘normal’. There is sacrifice early on…but it definitely pays off later if you can be one of those top guys. You can travel the world and it is a great experience along the way. I would not trade it for anything. The race schedule is super-demanding and it is getting to the point now where it is putting the teams and riders on the limit. We have found that limit. We are pushing thirty events a year. A hard part of it as well is the expectation; but that is part of being one of the top guys and having to win every weekend. That part – mentally – is the toughest of the whole deal and it’s how you handle it week-in, week-out.

Are you hard on yourself? Supercross in 2017 was high-pressure. What it is like for you knowing you need those points and have to perform…

Oh yeah. I remember a bad race and I take it into the next week. You have to be smart and you cannot overdo something and you cannot take that anger out through the entire week because you don't want to burn yourself out before the next race. It is something that definitely floats in the back of my mind and it gives you motivation to do what you have to do. I will beat myself up if I have to a little bit.

People must be curious what Eli Tomac does on a day or night off: will you be at the cinema, doing a BBQ? What goes on?

You’ll find me someway up the highway on the National 4, hiking around or fly-fishing or shooting our bows. We’re big ‘outside people’.

It is almost a cliché but what is it about riders needing a sport or activity that is the antithesis of the noise and adrenaline of racing?! Bow hunting must be very silent, very patient: the opposite of a Supercross!

Exactly! It is the polar opposite. You are out there alone. Most of the time when I am archery hunting then I am by myself-

"Being on the podium and seeing everyone there…it is something that will be missed when I retire. At the same time I am not a guy who is feeding all that into my ego."

No companion or buddy?

Sometimes…but you are obviously more silent alone…and there is not as much scent! Haha. You try to be clean and scent-free. We could sit here and talking about hunting all day! It takes you back to where we came from. It is something else.

Do you also rationalise it with your lifestyle where you might have hundreds or thousands that want your time or your signature and then being forest by yourself with maybe a bear for company…

Hahaha! That's what so cool about it. It is so ‘opposite’ that I think it’s healthy and gives me the motivation to come back to this [racing] environment. You have to have a little bit of a break here-and-there to be fired-up to come back. If I take a week or two free then I am jumping to get back on my bike but if you ride for four months straight then you do want that day off. You think ‘get me outside’…

There must be a part of you that likes being there in the lights, in front of the big crowd and having some of that adulation…? Can you imagine not having that any more?

To be able to perform in front of 40,000 people is something else. When you hear the crowd when you are battling, or you are bumping a guy in a turn and they are ‘involved’ in it then it is something else. Being on the podium and seeing everyone there…it is something that will be missed when I retire. At the same time I am not a guy who is feeding all that into my ego.

You like sports?

Oh yeah…

So it must be nice to know you have put on a great show for people at the stadium or through a screen?

[smiles] It’s nice…but at the same time I think that, for myself, I feed more from the racing part. I really enjoy the competition between myself and other riders. But at the end of the day we are not there unless there are people in the stands. We are there because the show is there. I was on that side of the fence when I was five or six and watching Jeremy [McGrath] or Chad [Reed]. I loved watching Chad when I was little. Sometimes you have to stand back at ‘look’ at that fence and remember you were on the other side at one point. You want to be a good example for everyone, and have kids look up to you, keep the sport healthy and keep it going.