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Monday Conversation: Blake Williams

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On Saturday morning at 11:00 a.m., August 1, 2009, Blake “Bilko” Williams, suited and waiting to go, sat atop his bike as Summer X Games 15 Moto X Freestyle eliminations were set to begin. While he was disappointed in not winning the gold medal the night before in the Staples Center, he was now, in his words, in the moment and “looking at the bigger picture.”

  • Bilko waves the flag proudly for Australia.
But Williams would have his revenge on Los Angeles, as on Saturday night before an overflow crowd in the Home Depot Center he beat three of the world’s elite freestyle motocross riders – Jeremy Stenberg, Nate Adams and Mat Rebeaud – to win the FMX gold medal. And while he blew his knee out immediately after his winning run, “Bilko” was thrilled to have struck gold.

“Yeah, I knew I had what it took,” he said while being helped out of the stadium. “I got ahead of the pressure and did what I needed to. If I didn’t leave there with a gold medal I was going to be pissed.”

Flash ahead a month now. Williams is in a building in Corona, California. He limps around to an office chair, plops down into it, and settles in for a Racer X interview about his rapid ascent in the global freestyle motocross ranks.

Racer X: Blake, you’re limping around pretty good. Word is you just had surgery…
Williams: I just had a knee reconstruction done on my right knee from the X Games – I tore my ACL. So while I was under the knife, I got a plate and four screws taken out of my right foot. That came from Mexico City X Fighters last year. Then I have to back under the knife again to have my right shoulder reconstructed. It’s been bugging me for 18 months now, so it’s time to get that fixed while I’m off. I also have to get two toes re-broken on my left foot and readjusted.

That doesn’t sound like very much fun. Did you ride hurt all year?
Yeah, I mean, I came back in January and that was only five months after the reconstruction of my right knee. So yeah, my shoulder was bugging me all year and my knee was still kind of tender. Yeah, my shoulder did hassle me a lot all year. It just hurt every time I did a trick where my arms were above my head or behind my back. I was still doing what I was doing, so there was no point in having it fixed.

So you won the biggest freestyle motocross contest in the world – the X Games – and then blew your knee out immediately after your final run?
Yeah, it all happened in the same night. That was kind of a bittersweet weekend after getting silver in Best Trick and gold in freestyle and then having my knee hurt before I even got my medal. I was kind of bummed. I knew I’d won, but I knew I hurt my knee and that I was going to be off the bike for a while.

Now that you have surgery behind you, when will you be able to start riding again?
After a knee reconstruction, usually they say six months or whatever, but I should be back on a bike between four to five months. It depends on how the recovery goes.

  • This is the trick many thought deserved Best Trick gold.
So what do you do now for the next four months?
I don’t know… Just sort out everything for next year, you know? Some of my deals are up, some aren’t. I need to try and figure out what bikes I’m going to ride because this year I just rode the same bike as last year, so right now I’m still on 2008-model bikes. I really need to get new ones. I’m not sure if I’m going to stay on a four-stroke or ride a two-stroke. It depends because my four-strokes in America and Australia are really good, but if I want to travel to places and ride a borrowed bike, it’s pretty hard on a stock 250F.

For readers out there that may not know a lot about you, can you give us a brief rundown of your career?
It’s kind of up-and-down. I started my freestyle career kind of by accident. I didn’t really have any high hopes; it was just a fun thing to do. I started out racing BMX when I was younger. I had a little pee-wee 50 Yamaha that I ended up snapping the frame in half. I kept racing BMX with my sister. She was actually second in the world at one point. I changed to motocross racing when I was 12. I always liked to jump so I did a lot of supercross and won a couple of state titles. I started hitting ramps when I was 17 or 18 just for something fun to do. One of my friends I went to school with rang me up and said he had a “Crusty” ramp in the backyard, so me and Cam [Sinclair] went down and started hitting that and I learned how to do a heel-clicker.

From there I did a demo at some local tractor pull thing. It was pretty ghetto. Then I decided I wanted to do a backflip and started doing demos at supercross at half-time while I was there racing. I started making good money and started to put more time into my riding. I started doing the Crusty tour and did that for two years. I learned the Cliffhanger Flip and then I got invited to X Games for Best Trick in 2006. That was pretty much my first time out here in America.

I was riding really well at the start of 2007. My first event of the year was the Baltimore Dew Tour and I messed up one of my jumps and over-rotated a Ruler Flip and pretty smashed my whole left leg to pieces. That wrote me off for seven months. So it was back to square one in 2008. I still wasn’t that confident. That crash took a lot of my confidence again. I ended up getting hurt in Mexico and ended up having the rest of the year off with surgery. Then I came back this year. I did the Crusty tour and the first contest I did was X Games.

  • Blake Williams has the total freestyle package.
I was able to watch you ride throughout the entire X Games, and you seemed take it to a higher level. What happened? Did something click?
I was riding good all year, but I was trying to stay smooth and consistent. On the Crusty tour I was doing all my big tricks and starting to get all my confidence back. Obviously, for me, the X Games were my first contest of the year because I hadn’t been invited to the X Fighters. I don’t think anyone really knew what I was going to be doing and maybe counted me out. I practiced hard right before and just came out swinging and gave it everything I had. The plan was to come in and get two medals and I did that.

Casey Stoner is a MotoGP champion, Ben Spies the AMA Superbike champion, Chad Reed the new AMA Motocross Champion, and Bilko Williams, the Summer X Games 15 Gold Medalist. What is it about Australians and world class motorcycle competition?
Yeah, I don’t know… It’s the same thing with me, too. I’m from a small country town.

Do you look up to those guys?
Yeah, I mean I always like watching Chad race and Casey, too. I didn’t really know much about MotoGP. We only have four TV stations, so I never got to watch the AMA Supercross or Motocross or MotoGP while growing up. So the last few years I’ve really been able to watch all those events.

What’s up with the future of freestyle motocross? Adams, Pastrana, Stenberg, Rebeaud are getting a little older now. Is there going to be a changing-of-the-guard or a new wave of younger guys coming up to try and take them down?
My body is feeling pretty old, but it’s all about staying consistent and being able to do it week-in and week-out. Sometimes I’ve gone to a contest where I have not felt comfortable with the course and have not been able to throw everything into it. Sometimes it’s being on a 250F that affects it. Sometimes I crash in practice, which I seem to do a lot. It’s all about being consistent. People talk about [Ricky] Carmichael being the greatest of all-time because he could go to any start line and have a 100% chance of winning every time he lined up. You have to be able to bring you’re A-game every time you go to a contest.

  • Now picture it upside-down...
What about the risks in the sport. They seem to be getting pretty high. Knock-on-wood, what’s your take? Are things going to keep going to a higher level?
Yeah, I mean, it’s going to a certain level. I mean, Cam Sinclair was doing a double flip when he got hurt. He did 25 in a row almost perfect and then, bang, that one almost killed him. That’s not a trick you can do day-in and day-out and stuff like that. We’re getting away with a lot with those tricks we do now. I mean, 360s have been around for six years now. Deegan did the first one, and then Pastrana, then Nate did them for a while. That trick, that’s how I broke my leg last year. I’ve broken my shoulder blade and smacked myself stupid. That trick has been around for ages now and I’ve seen other guys try them in a pit and they’re not too keen to do them to dirt. For some reason I’ve just got a knack for it and I can just do it no worries. But there are flip tricks that I don’t like doing. They’ve been around for years and I don’t want to do them. It’s kind of flattening out now. I think they’re varying it up with the courses to try and level it out a little and bring a bit of creativity and variety back into it to make it maybe a little safer.

You have a strong personality. FMX has not seen a lot of that in a little while. You remind me more of the OG freestyle guys I came up with as a journalist. What do you think?
Yeah, I mean I don’t know… I don’t try and do anything different. I’ve always been kind of loud and fun. I mess around and not make everything too serious. At the same time, I’m serious when things need to be taken care of. When I used to work full-time for my dad, he was quite a hard boss and stuff so I’m professional when I need to be. You can always have fun with it, though. I try to enjoy it more. I seem to appeal a lot more to younger fans rather than the older than the older, hardcore fans. Maybe it’s because I don’t have any tattoos… I think a lot more of my fan base is younger kids. I think parents like the image I put out. It’s kind of clean-cut. I still like to have fun with it—I’m pretty crazy and wild—but I kind of like it mellow and family friendly. I’m not trying to go out there and be like someone else. I’m just there be myself. I’m just there to be an Australian hillbilly, which is what I am!

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