Thomas Genon at Munich Mash 2016: "Many get a head problem".

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Thomas Genon, nicknamed "Frite," is one of the world's top mountain bike slopestylers: traveling, sponsors, fans, making movies - the life of an action athlete sounds like the ultimate for many young people. Thomas Genon lives this life.

If you want to race down, you first have to push up: MTB star Thomas Genon before starting work.
If you want to race down, you first have to push up: MTB star Thomas Genon before starting work.

The 22-year-old is a star of the MTB slopestyle scene and is enjoying it. He was fourth at the Munich Mash two years ago, second last year, and now the Belgian is aiming for the logical next step.

But in an interview with ISPO.COM, Genon, who will be competing at the Munich Mash 2016, also talks about the downside of his job. About the pressure to show an even crazier jump every time. Remarkably open words.

ISPO.COM: Mr. Genon, watching you here on the course at the Olympic site, it looks like a lot of fun.
Thomas Genon: Yes, the course is so much better than last year! It's already fun in training. When you have to train on a course that's not fun, it's damn hard.

There are ten jumps to do from the start to the finish.
That's right, so there are a whole lot of tricks to show! And as many different tricks as possible.

Please compare the Munich Mash course with other courses on the World Tour.
This one requires a lot of variability. And it is very compact. You don't have a lot of time between jumps to think about what comes next, you have to stick strictly to your plan.

What is your favorite course on the World Tour?
The first tour stop in New Zealand is a very nice course. But then comes the one here at the Munich Mash. It's really fun terrain, a cool course in this very special location, even if it's not in the mountains. Of course, that makes it much harder for the course builders.

How do you like the Olympic Park?
It's a very nice place! And there is much more space for us riders than at the FISE event in Montpellier, for example. There you're constantly in the middle of a huge crowd - no chance to chill out for a bit.

"At 19, pressure was new for me"

A few years ago there was still an event here with the great name X-Games, then suddenly the Americans didn't want it anymore. Annoying for you?
Well, the course was really bad, it was totally windy, so very dangerous for us. There were probably quite a few restrictions on course construction. You couldn't build exactly what you wanted. And apparently there was also quite a lot of pressure from the organization.

Mountainbike-Star Thomas Genon kennt die Tücken seines Actionsports.
Mountainbike-Star Thomas Genon kennt die Tücken seines Actionsports.
Image credit:
Bartek Wolinski/Red Bull Content Pool

How did you do back then?
I wasn't that good, just qualified, but didn't even start in the final because of the wind. And I was only 19 - not yet as mentally strong as I am now. Pressure was relatively new for me.

At 22, you're still one of the younger ones, aren't you?
Well, the youngest in the field here is 16, the oldest around 30.

Lyon is a slopestyle hotspot

How has the level developed over the last few years?
It increases every year! I notice it in myself as well: After five training runs, I can already do my run better than last year. I thought to myself, "Man, I could have easily won that!" But stupidly, everyone keeps getting better.

Action im Münchner Olympiapark: Thomas Genon fliegt beim MTB-Slopestyle durch die Luft.
Action im Münchner Olympiapark: Thomas Genon fliegt beim MTB-Slopestyle durch die Luft.
Image credit:
Munich Mash/wolisphoto.com

Do you train alone or in a group?
I now live in Lyon, like many of my colleagues with whom I train.

Genon's very spontaneous forward somersault

Will we see some new tricks from you?
We might. But nothing crazy.

Well, the forward somersault you did here at the Munich Mash is pretty exclusive.
That was my first forward somersault in two and a half years! I had actually taken it out of my program. But when I was down the course here, I realized, "Wow, that's the perfect setup for a forward somersault!" And then I suddenly jumped it, spontaneously, without thinking.

How did you actually get into slopestyle?
I used to ride dual slalom, downhill and BMX.

Also quite injury prone. What was broken?
A broken shoulder and lots of minor injuries that were only supposed to hurt for a few weeks, but then hurt for half a year. That's just part of it. But I still get out of bed pretty well in the morning.

When did you turn professional?
When I was 19, after school. I had a really good year, the sponsors came - and then suddenly I was a pro.

"Suddenly acting like rock stars"

How long can you make money in this sport?
As long as you put your heart into it. It doesn't depend so much on the body, you can always train it a bit more, feed it even healthier. A lot of people get a head problem after a while because you have to take risks all the time. There's a BMX rider who's over 40 and who's just shaking up the mountain bike scene - because his heart is in it.

And how much money can you earn?
Not that much, but it's okay. We're all in this sport out of a passion - and the trick is to maintain that passion. As soon as money and sponsors come into play, things change. Some riders then have the results and sponsor commitments too much on their minds, so they get nervous. Some suddenly act like rock stars. But you can't focus completely on your sport when you're playing a role. And it doesn't do any good to start out injured and playing hardball - even though the pressure from sponsors may be great. We're just normal guys, not machines.

Author: Thomas Becker