Get to know 3-time Olympic athlete and Gold Medalist Connor Fields with our exclusive interview and podcast with the Polo Ralph Lauren Ambassador ahead of his competition in Tokyo for the 2021 Summer games. Listen on Apple Podcast, Spotify, or read our interview with editor Seth Travis.
ST: I wanted to mention that I actually grew up BMX biking. My brother and I had GT bikes. I had an Interceptor, he had a Mach One. We used to make race tracks in our backyard. I don’t even know if Black Hawk Mountain is a thing in Arizona anymore. We raced there I know it’s a whole new world now, was just excited to be able to say at least I understand the way the sport works and looks and feels like for you going into this interview.
CF: One thing I’ve found, that’s been very interesting as I’ve gone through my entire career. So many people from all different backgrounds that are in all sorts of different walks of life now rode BMX as a kid. Yeah. How many people were like, oh, I used to ride, Ronald’s a kid. I had this bike ride, this bike and it’s pretty cool. Because it seems kind of like a universal thing. So everybody can relate to that. It’s the same sort of thing.
ST: Before we talk about being an Olympic Hero, let’s talk about Superheroes. Do you have a favorite comic book character or superhero?
So I didn’t grow up reading comics, but I’m a huge Marvel guy. I know Metropolis is not Marvel. That’s the other one, a D.C., but I guess I would say I’m a bit of a marvel there. Like I watched all the movies in order like 22 of them and I would watch all the spinoffs now. It’s funny. My fiancé and I actually are both in it together. We watched all of them in a row together. Uh, and I remember back when they had the last one, I think it was End Game in the movie theater. We went like opening night had to book tickets like a month before and the whole thing. As an adult, I’m a superhero guy. We just watched, I think the most recent one was, the Falcon and the Winter Soldier, which just finished up last week. The next one is Loki.
ST: So switching gears, and getting into BMX talk, can you talk a bit about growing up in Texas and getting into BMX biking?
CF: So for me, it was a bit unique. The majority of people who ride BMX got into it because their parents didn’t, it’s kind of a family sport where the dad would have ridden as a kid in the ’70s or ’80s and then wanted to get their child into it. But for me, I kind of found it by luck. My father was from England. He played rugby. My mom was a figure skater. You don’t get BMX from those two. I played all the different sports. I just enjoyed riding my bike. Like I would ride in front of my house and jump off the curb and pop wheelies and stuff. One day we were at the bike shop, getting repairs done, and my mom found a flyer advertising the local racetrack. And we went out and watched. I don’t remember this. I was eight, but my mom said that my eyes were huge and I looked like I loved it. Then we went out the next week and I tried it and I’ve been doing it ever since.
ST: I know there was a conversation with you and your parents when you were 13 when winning was a huge priority of yours and they were kind of questioning is this where his head should be at 13 years old. Can you share more about that moment where an important conversation and decision point needed to be made?
CF: So, I mean, I guess for me, I’ve always been ultra-competitive, I guess you don’t really get to the level of being an Olympic athlete without having at least a little bit of that in ya but for me, I wanted to win. I was willing to do the work. I was willing to do whatever it took, but when I didn’t win, even early in my professional career, it felt like the world was ending and the sun wasn’t going to come up. And when you’re young, when you’re 13, you just don’t have that perspective that like there’s going to be another race. Life goes on. There’s more to life than racing. At that point in time, I was eating, breathing, and sleeping BMX. I woke up in the morning and I read a BMX magazine. I went to school. I daydreamed about it all day. I went home and I wrote until the street lights came on, it was everything. So if it didn’t go well, um, I’d be really upset. And my parents were trying to figure it out and a lot of this I’ve heard later on. My parents were trying to figure out if this is healthy? Is this work ethic, this desire, this intensity at this young age, healthy? I tried to back it off as best we could, but, yeah, that’s just kinda how I’m wired. As I’ve gotten older, it’s easier to manage because my life is more, I guess you would say full like I have other things going on that bring me joy and meaning outside of my sport. When you’re 13, it’s kind of hard to have that life balance. I mean, it was always internal. Like I had no pressure from my parents. Like they gave me every opportunity, they would drive me to practice. They would sign me up for the races. They would get me lessons. Like they provided me with the opportunity, but the desire and that intensity always came from within. And it’s a double-edged sword. When you’re going to run that hot, you know, sometimes you can get heartbroken.
ST: I watched that race from Rio three times this week for our interview. You broke your wrist 4 months before that race, and you won the Gold! That is a lot to overcome. A lot of people would want to ask you what it was like leading up to that race but I want to ask you about the 24 hours after you won that race?
CF: The 24 hours after the Olympics was crazy. It was a bit like a pinch yourself moment. Like, is this actually happening? You’ve daydreamed it a thousand times. You’ve thought about it. You know you lied in bed at night thinking about it. You’re sitting on the plane, flying there, thinking about what you would do and feel like, and you know, when you’re training and training and you’re working really hard like you’re thinking about that in the back of your mind like that’s the reward. So when it happened, it was crazy. It was like, is this real right? So the 24 hours after, immediately after you change into your medal ceremony uniform, you get your medal; the coolest five minutes of your life. My dad was right behind me in the stands. It was really, really incredible. And then you go to drug testing, All the medalists plus some randoms get drug tested. Then from there, you go to a press conference and it was pretty funny because two of the six medalists were Colombian, including the women’s gold medalist. And she is like a national hero in Colombia. She was their first-ever Olympic gold medalist in 2012. And she went back to back. So we sat there and the press conference and like 95% of the questions were all for her. Cause she’s like a LeBron James, Michael Phelps type in Colombia. So we were just there just listening to her talk. You know it was pretty cool because she even asked the rest of us questions. From there we got in a bus and went straight to the media center to interview, to interview, to interview, to interview, um, And I’ve done a lot of media over the years and repeated myself a lot, but I was totally fine. When we were finished they took us straight to the Team USA house, where my family was there and I got to see them. They had an award ceremony where you could award somebody who helped you with what they call the order of ETHOS, which is like an official recognized medal that when you win a medal, you can award one to somebody else. So we got to go through that ceremony where I got to award my coach his medal which was pretty cool. Then we went out to Copacabana, but it was funny because I didn’t drink at all because I wanted to really enjoy it and feel everything. I just didn’t have the desire to drink or anything like that. And it was kind of surreal. I remember walking back into the village and like 5:30 in the morning, the sun was coming up. I’m eating breakfast and looking at some of the other athletes who I could tell are getting ready for their competition days. It was just funny because 24 hours ago I was stirring my breakfast. Like I couldn’t eat because I was so nervous, but you know, now it’s my pancakes meal. Laid down. Woke up at 2:00 PM. Did more media. I got to go to the basketball game that night which was pretty fun. Then the following day was the closing ceremony and then I went home. When I got home was when I celebrated and I kind of had a two-week party with my buddies and I live in Las Vegas now. If you’re going to live somewhere in the world, when you get home from winning an Olympic gold medal, Vegas is probably the place.
ST? That’s awesome. When you were in Copacabana what did gold medal drunk feel like?
CF: It was actually funny because we were with a lot of my teammates and not just my teammates, but I mean, BMX is a pretty tight-knit sport. So you know everybody we’ve traveled around the world and competed against. There were probably 8-10 athletes that we competed against that went out together and they all got hammered and I stayed sober. So I just kind of watched and enjoyed and laughed and I danced and had a good time. I really just wanted to try to take it all in.
ST: Speaking of taking it all in. What is it like to be an Ambassador for Polo Ralph Lauren and one of the faces of Team USA headed to Tokyo?
CF: I actually have always enjoyed the brand. I wore the brand even before I was associated with them and before I was on the Olympic team. I’ve always enjoyed just their classic polo when I was in high school. That was the cool shirt that we all wore with the Puka shells. It was kind of the style back then. We don’t get to dress nice on competition days. We ride on dirt. It’s dusty. It’s dirty. I don’t wear clothes I care about on competition day because I know it’s going to get muddy. So I love getting the opportunity to dress nicely if I’m going out or if I’m going to go to dinner or if I’m doing something else. So it’s been really cool to see all the options at Ralph Lauren. For so long, I thought it was just the classic polo and a couple of other things but then when you start digging a bit deeper, you see they’ve got an entire range Like I really liked the Double RL stuff. That’s probably my favorite segment of the brand. Of course, shooting for the Olympic materials was great, that was another one of the coolest experiences I’ve ever had. I mean, getting to do the Ralph Lauren photoshoots and just seeing how much goes into it behind the scenes, it’s crazy, you know, the number of people and staff and they’re looking at every inch of your clothing to make sure it’s exactly how they want it and perfect. So it’s cool to see the other side of that. Probably the coolest experience I’ve had was I actually got to go to the New York offices. This is before Rio and I got to meet David Lauren. and a couple of other people there, as well as I, got to eat at the Polo Bar, which to this day was the best meal I’ve ever had. And it was great because we sat down and they didn’t bring us a menu. And we thought, maybe it was just bad service. Because we never got a menu. And I was like, this is actually too nice of a place to get bad service. And then all of a sudden they just started bringing us food. And so we gotta try a little bit of everything and like, this is the Tomahawk steak grown on Ralph’s personal ranch like this is the best steak I’ve ever had. So that was a really, really cool experience that I’ll never forget. I’ve never been in the fall. I think it’d be really cool to go on the false. Central Park when the trees are all lit up with the colors and I definitely gonna go for a run so I don’t feel so guilty when I eat all the Polo Bar.
ST: We see clearly you are a Polo fan, what is another important style of investment for you?
CF: My style is a little bit more. Simplistic. So just with my body type as an athlete, I’ve got huge legs and a huge, I guess, and a high butt. I can’t really wear shorts because it looks strange with my huge quads, like popping out and I’m a little bit limited, I think, and stuff that would look good on me. So I dress a little bit simplistic with my pants or shirt jackets a little more simple. So where I like to spice things up would be the shoes or the watch. I love a nice pair of boots, Ralph Lauren’s got some great boots that I own. You could wear something as simple as jeans and like a plain colored t-shirt, but with a nice pair of shoes and a nice watch, it really can kind of make it look nice.
ST: Let’s talk more about BMX training off the track, what does that look like for you on a weekly basis?
CF: I’ve been in the gym two to three days a week for my whole life, essentially for the last 12 years. There’s so much strength that goes in. We don’t have an engine or a motor. We are the motor, right? You power the bicycle. So we have to be strong. We have to be fit and we have to have the power to get out of the starting gate as quickly as we can. If there are two racers next to each other, the one who’s going to be stronger on the pedals is going to be the one who goes ahead. So we’re constantly supplementing what we’re doing on the bike with exercises. So things like squats, deadlifts, lunges, plyometrics, things like that to just really build-up to strengthen your quads and your glutes and your hamstrings to push the pedals harder. There’s a lot of fitness. We all race sometimes at events up to eight, nine times in a day. So a lot of other sports, for example, like track and field they’ll compete for one or two times a day, max like you’re not going to see Usain Bolt run nine 100 meter races in a span of three hours. We do that. So there is a lot of the word is repeatability or you have to repeat your highest level again and again and again and again and again, and that’s a different type of fitness. You know, running a marathon but you have to be able to have the endurance to just repeat it again and again and again.
ST: Wow, nine heats in a day, how do you cool down, and relax in the midst of all of that?
CF: It depends on how much time you have in between them. If you have a lot of time, you might completely just chill out and then just re-warm up again for the next one. If it’s a shorter break, I call it a tick over. You just kind of stay warm, you just slowly peddle or you go for a walk or something to kind of escape your body. Turn on, you never let your body go to sleep. And so at the Olympics, that’s how it’ll be. We’ll only have about 25 minutes between our heats. So you finish one and pretty much by the time you catch your breath, you’re back at it again. So in-between, you’re just sitting on a stationary bike or just taking a seat and just breathing. Try to catch your breath and get your heart rate back down and get a drink of water. And you’re pretty much back out there again.
ST: So I imagine you have very particular music choices for these days, from warm-ups to cool downs to right before the big medal race, can you share what you listen to?
CF: I actually have a playlist that’s about 400 songs long. I’ve actually been collecting or working on it since I started with Spotify, I guess in 2012, 2013. I don’t know if it’s public, but every time I hear a song that I’m like, oh, that’d be good for a race town. Add it to the list, but there’s a huge variety on that. There are all sorts of different stuff from hard rock to hip hop to techno. You know, I love country music, but not on race day. Like that’s probably the only genre that’s not there, but for me, a lot of it just depends on how I’m feeling that day if I’m really hyped up and maybe I need to relax. I might go to like a little bit more of like a techno dance song that kind of just is a little bit more like, I don’t want to say calm, but it’s a little bit more like focused and like bring you back to the center. But if I’m sleepy or I need to wake up, I might put on some Rage Against The Machine to get a bit angry. So I like to kind of see how I’m feeling and then my music reflects whatever I believe I need on that day. So I don’t have one. I seem to gravitate to Eminem on race day, maybe because he’s angry and I don’t want to be angry out there.
ST: So the elephant in the room is that you have had to wait a full year from the original date of the 2020 Summer Games. Talk to us about that mental and emotional and physical toll and how you worked to process those challenges and lean into more time to prepare for Tokyo?
CF: Yeah, it’s crazy. Yeah. You gotta go back to like January, February of 2020. And when you’re in that boot camp and you’re six months out from the Olympics and you are training so hard to the point of complete exhaustion every day, you’re doing it. And you’re kind of convincing yourself while you’re doing it. Like six more months. Five more months. Like every time you do it like I only have to do this workout for another two weeks and then I’m done and you’re like, convincing yourself. You’re like, I’m never doing this again. And, and so in March or April, whenever they decided that they were canceling or postponing the games, excuse me, it was like, I’m just saying that I’m like, so I have to do all the things I just did. And I convinced myself the whole time that this is the last time I was going to have to do this for at least another three years. I’m going to have to go do this again. You know, it’s a lot of work, right? And, it’s a 24 hour a day job when people ask about, you know, being a professional athlete thing. I like to say it scares some people. It’s every single decision you make matters, what you eat, what time you go to bed, whether or not you have that beer. If you skip that last set, cause you’re tired, whatever it is, every single decision you make all goes into whether or not you end up getting what you want. And that’s kind of heavy when you think about it. If we’ve learned one thing from this whole situation, it’s that you have to be prepared for anything. I’ve really just tried to take things as cheesy as it sounds one day at a time and find smaller goals to work towards whether it’s squatting a certain weight, whether it’s a certain lap time at my local track, whether it’s a certain height on my box jump or whatever it is, and just work on taking those incremental goals or those things that were tangible that I knew I could go for. And if I did all those things, he would obviously contribute to me being ready for Tokyo, because if I am just only focused on Tokyo, The way I could be back in Rio or in London. The rug might get pulled out from underneath you the way it had before. So it was kind of a shift of mindset. Now we’ve been lucky here in the U S. I’ve had events that have continued or started back up happening like last November. So I’ve been able to do some competitions here domestically and I’ve been really just putting a hundred percent effort into those and just focusing on one at a time and trying to win each race that I could, knowing that that’s all going to help on the journey to Tokyo. Basically just take things one day at a time, one step at a time, and trust that in the long run. That’s the best thing I can do to be ready.
ST: What advice would you give to the younger generation who is interested in what you do and competing in BMX?
CF: I guess the piece of advice that I would give is applicable to anything. People start racing BMX or riding BMX, and you can relate to this cause you did too, because it’s fun because they enjoy it because they see a pile of dirt and they want to jump their bike off it. Right? Like that’s why, or they want to pop a wheelie or they want to race their friend in the streets. That’s why people don’t start because they’re like, oh if I ride this bike, I’ll be rich, famous one day. Right. And I think the same holds true for anything in that you need to love and enjoy what you’re doing first. And if you enjoy what you’re doing, you’ll be better at it than if you do something that you’re miserable or that you don’t like doing. So if you love what you’re doing, you enjoy what you’re doing. It’s going to be easier for you to advance progress, get to that next level. I think really that’s where it all has to begin. You have to find what you’re passionate about. And if that is BMX, then you have to work hard again, whether it’s BMX or not, you have to work hard. And then from there, good things are going to happen.