Jill Kintner: The Challenge of Change

Interview by Curtis Sutton Photography by Paris Gore

From humble beginnings in Washington State, Jill Kintner has grown into one of the best riders in the world. Jill’s professional BMX career began when she was 14, and progressed into winning a bronze medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Jill’s abilities extend beyond BMX, evident in her progression into downhill and slalom mountain biking. Jill has racked up 15 elite national championships titles across 5 disciplines ( BMX, Downhill, Slalom, 4x, and enduro).

From Jill’s beginnings in BMX and move to mountain biking, there has been a lot of hard work. The praise Jill receives for being a hard worker and a determined athlete, are certainly warranted. She exemplifies where natural talent and dedication can take you, and should be a role model for all aspiring professional sport stars.

When did you get your first coach for BMX? 

Bmx was a bit of a non-traditional sport for coaching. My first official coach started the year I went for an Olympic medal, thanks to Red Bull. Before that , my dad sorta steered the ship. For mountain biking, Scott Sharples helped me so much transition into mountain biking and get my first few world titles in 4x. My husband Bryn (also a professional Downhiller) taught me tons about cornering and mountain biking on the daily as we trained together in Australia for years. He and I were students of the sport watching each other, experimenting, studying videos, riding a lot with other people, and figuring stuff out. I think it used to be more of a community learning effort:)

Do you still remember or use any of the advice they gave you? 

Yeah, of course. Greg Romero was my Olympic BMX coach, who was also a former bmx champion. He was a bit raw, but fun and had a ton of passion and personal experience. He used to tell me to "play it primal" which means to use instinct and be present. That was good advice, and I actually wrote it on my glove at one point.

As you progressed into professional racing, I am sure the level of coaching also improved. Were there any means by which you used to decide which coach was going to be best for your progression? What advice would you give someone to help them choose a coach which will be right for them? 

In both bmx and mountain biking, coaching is a bit rare. I don't have much advise for people on actual professional coaching, except to find someone you like and trust. I was really self motivated, surrounded myself with faster riders, did baseline testing for physiology and hr zones, and hired a trainer for the gym. You gotta spend money to make money, and I think a lot of people don't get that. Skills coaching would have been awesome, but then again having a buddy film with slow motion is one of the best tools. Quality practice is better than just doing massive amount of volume.

I think having a network for rehab, massage, nutrition, etc is really key too, cause there are gonna be low points that need a solid rebound. Success doesn't come without some struggle, and those struggles will be what defines someone.

I had a blown out knee leading into the Olympics, and ice bathed every day, modified my gym routines not to make anything worse, wore a brace, rehab, and just did the best I could with the circumstances. Nothing is perfect.

With the progression into professional events, did you notice a larger mental strain on yourself? If so, how did you deal with this? 

For me it was kinda seamless, because I had competed all my life with having an older brother and starting so young, but I needed more ways of managing problems and strategy for dealing with fear or adversities.

It took me awhile to win pro events and get sponsorship. Other girls seemed like they had better teams, more support, and it came easy. I never took shortcuts and worked really hard to get myself into a good environment where I could be pro. I used to reinvest my prize money earnings towards the things I needed to take steps forward. A good head space and positive growth come when you are having fun, good people surround you, and you love what you are doing. As soon as those things fell into place I started doing really well.

I also had a sports psychologist that helped me navigate life. He helped me talk through personal problems, so that I could deal with them and move on. Holding stuff in doesn't really help. Communication and being true to yourself is key. I journal too, which is sort of like a recap, and helps learn lessons sooner.

Often professional sports people can burn out after competing in a sport for a long time and lose enjoyment. When you thought you needed a change in 2002, you moved laterally into mountain bike 4 Cross. Do you suggest athletes who are feeling burned out, should try something new to reignite their passion for a sport? 

It depends what you want to do I guess. Maybe some people who are burnt out should quit. I didn't because I love riding so much and knew I could still get better. It didn't feel that good at first to go from being the best as something to starting at the bottom and being uncomfortable, but I did it and it payed off after a couple years.

Moving from BMX to downhill and slalom, was there any significant changes in training which you had to make? Or was this just a natural progression from BMX and only minor alterations were needed? 

It was really difficult. Sure I had skills, but the physiology is way different, and the fitness needs, plus going from seeing your competitors next to you to a time trial with no gauge. It takes time. There are a lot of variables in mountain biking with the weather and changing terrain, plus learning equipment, and turning, and looking ahead. People with a background in motocross seem to have a bit easier of time making the switch in.

Downhill and slalom mountain biking can be a very unrelenting sports, what are some of the main preparation techniques you use to prime yourself for a race?

Skills training , cardio , and gym in the offseason are key. Having a good environment at the races is good. Controlling the things you have control over. There is a lot to it. I have refined all my preparation and written notes to myself, so now I'm dialed and am not phased by much.

 Has your preparation changed over time with new techniques and technology?

Just a little more sports science based, hr monitors etc. I know my body real well, that I go by feel sometimes more often with warm ups and stuff , cause it can be stressful if you are so linear with everything and can't adapt on the fly. I like to just be grateful for opportunities, do my best, and trust all the hard work I did with my team. I think the nerves now aren't what they used to be,  and I don't have to worry about outcomes so much. You can't erase what I have accomplished, and that give me confidence.

Will you go back to focussing on BMX closer to the 2016 Olympic Games? If so, when will you start transitioning into a more BMX focussed training program and how will this change your current training program?

Nope. I'm done racing bmx. Haven't really touched it since the 2008 games in Beijing . I accomplished what I wanted, and am happy out in the woods on a mountain bike. I'd love to help for the 2016 games or beyond with the team or media in any way I can, if they want me to help, but I've been pretty busy with my current ventures in downhill.