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Downhill World Champion Interview, Sam Hill

Sam Hill has more World Championship victories than anyone else in the last 10 years, and there is no indication that he is slowing down. Back-to-back rainbow stripes in 2006 and 2007, he was surely up for the win in 2008 until he over-cooked the last major corner of course in Val di Sole and went down, throwing away the victory. In 2010, he came back from injury to reclaim the rainbow jersey. Suffering a similar fate in 2011, is Sam still on a mission for 2012 and beyond?

Sam Hill, on the way to his first Elite DH World Championship victory in New Zealand. photo by Sven MartinAs a multiple Elite Men's DH World Champion, which victory meant the most to you?
I would have to say 2010. It meant a lot to get the rainbows back after a couple of hard years and also coming back from injury.

Which World Champs victory do you feel was the most difficult to earn?
Probably 2006 in New Zealand. I was so hungry to win my first senior Worlds and was close for a couple years before.  It's just hard cause you only have one chance a year.

Preparation
Was winning World Championships a specific goal for you the years you won?
It's always my number one goal.

Once you had a World Championship victory, did you stick to the same strategy for following World Champ victories?
I approach it the same as every race I guess. I am always there to try and win. The World Champs definitely excites me a little more though.

What is one piece of your preparation that you feel is unique to you and no one else?
I don't know. I don't think I really do anything secret or different to the other guys.

Did you work closely with your National team and coaches during the years you won?
In my earlier years I worked a lot with Scott Sharples and I think he helped me a lot.

How important was your preparation in securing a victory the years you won? Do you feel like some years it mattered more than others?
Yeah, I look back on some years and it definitely happened a lot easier than other years.
Sam at home with some history. photo by Sven MartinYour Victory
As a World Champion, I imagine you think about your winning runs often. Choose your favorite World Champs race run and let's break down the experience a bit...How did you feel the night before your race run?
I'm going to have to say 2006 in new Zealand. I cruised qualifying and was right on the other guy's times so I knew I could do it. I was nervous and excited the night before. I always have trouble sleeping the night before because I'm thinking about it all.

How did you feel riding up the lift?
They used buses in new Zealand. I was anxious to get my run over with already.

What was it like rolling into the start gate?
I remember just feeling like it's time now, so let's go throw down and have fun.

Recount your run in detail.
I left the start gate and hit the first section pinned. I was just focusing on everything and everything was coming up fast. I got to the bridge that crossed the road and must of been going faster than in practice. I pre-jumped into the downside but was going a bit quick and landed hard at the bottom. I then came into the top of the steep section where I had a wild line where most people either went left under a tree or right above a tree. My line jumped through the middle and I had to land in a pretty skinny, off-camber section and then brake hard for the next corner. I was for sure nervous coming up to that. The crowd in the steep section was awesome and super loud. After I came out of the trees I was just trying to pedal as hard as I could and carry speed. I did run wide in a corner and nearly threw it away but I made it past that and pedaled as hard as I could across the line. I had so much fun in that run and was on the limit the whole way, which makes it stand out for me.

World Championships 2006, Rotorua New Zealand
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When did you realize you had the winning run?
I guess when there was about 1 or 2 guys left and no one was getting close. I guess I really knew when the last rider got to the split and there was too much time to make up to beat me. I knew it was mine.

What do you remember most about the day?
Not a lot. It all happened pretty quickly. I remember how good it felt though.

The Payoff
Did winning a World Championship effect how raced after the victory?
Not really. It was the end of the season so it was just a relief I didn't have to wait another year.

Was there more pressure to win additional World Champs with at least one victory under your belt?
Yeah when you are the Champ, the last thing you want to do is lose it. The second one is harder than the first.
SoCal with the World Champ, 2006. photo by gordo
How did your victory effect your career and your future with mountain biking?
I think it got me more attention and media time and made me hungrier to win more.

In General
Not including the World Champ races you've won, which World Championship is most memorable to you?
2008 in Val di Sole. I was going for three in a row. I felt awesome on the track and had a perfect run up until the last corner. I was about eight seconds faster than everybody and just lost the front end. I washed out and tried to get back to the bike as fast as possible, but I was in the hardest gear and my crank was bent and rubbing on the frame. I was so disappointed in myself for throwing it away like that.

Val di Sole, 2008, Sam crashes within sight of the finish line, 6 seconds ahead of the current leader, Steve Peat...INSANITY!
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As downhill mountain biking racing grows, do you think the World Championships will always be the ultimate title?
I think as long as there is a World Championship than yes. If it was ever part of a series where you are crowned World Champ, like surfing, then that would be more prestigious. But as it is now, even if you win the World Cup your not the World Champ. You have to win on the day.

2010, Sam reclaims the rainbow stripes in Mont Sainte Anne

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What impact did Sam's dominance have on you as a rider? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

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