Cooksey Straight To The Point: Does Eli Have

Watching Eli Tomac smash the field during the first two main events of the Monster Energy Triple Crown in Detroit was impressive. He looked like a completely different racer than last week in Dallas. It got me speculating as to why he flounders under random high-pressure moments. How does Eli look like the Fastest Man on the Planet one week, then average or even below average the following week? Why does he have flashes of talent that seem to vanish? There are occasions where it appears Eli isn’t even aware of the situation. Much like when he crashed at the New Jersey Supercross in 2017. If he had hustled to remount his bike, he might have been able to salvage the 2017 Supercross championship.

As a spectator I love races like Detroit because Eli is must-see TV. When Eli is involved, no point lead is ever comfortable. It doesn’t matter if Eli has a superior skill set compared to his competition, he always finds a way to keep them in the championship battle. I am not a psychologist, but I have stayed in a Holiday Inn Express, so take my opinion with a grain of salt. I believe Eli suffers from “focal dystonia” or what golfers call “the yips.” Explaining this scientifically, the neurons on the left side of the brain fire more frequently than the right side in pressure situations. The left side of our brain controls analytical thinking; the right side of our brain controls coordination. When both sides of the brain are balanced an athlete is able to use their skills to the best of their ability. When the neurons on the left side start firing more than the right, brain function is confused. This result is an athlete that seemingly loses their skills.

With an athlete as talented as Eli, we rarely see “the yips” on display. An MLB baseball player by the name of Rick Ankiel was one of the best pitchers in baseball from 1999 -2001. Then he suddenly couldn’t throw strikes and sent pitches ten feet over his catcher’s head. He found himself out of baseball after failing to conquer his mental barriers. He was eventually able to return, but never again as a pitcher. I don’t think Eli’s case of “the yips” is nearly as severe as Rick Ankiel’s. Nonetheless, I have to compare him to an athlete outside of Supercross because Eli’s is the only case I have ever seen in Supercross.

We saw glimpses of “the yips” from Eli at the Las Vegas Supercross in 2011. Eli surrendered the 250 West Title after a high-pressure battle with Broc Tickle. Next was his epic meltdown at the Salt Lake City Supercross in 2013. On that fateful night, Eli literally forgot how to go through the whoops. His talent that had suddenly vanished then returned the following week. Unfortunately, the damage was done and he lost the 250 West Championship to Ken Roczen. We have case after case of Eli seemingly shutting down in the most unusual of ways.

An interesting thing about “the yips,” psychologists cannot consistently re-create situations that trigger the issue. I can tell you exactly what triggers Eli’s issues, a point lead. Even if it’s a lead heading into the final moto of a Triple Crown. Sometimes in high-pressure situations Eli performs amazingly well, but usually his amazing performances come when he is facing low-pressure situations with nothing to lose. In low-pressure situations Eli rides “unconsciously” and looks like the Fastest Man on the Planet. When Eli has these world-class rides, we wonder why he can’t consistently perform at this level.

Rather than look at Eli in a negative light, I see him as a gift to the sport! In my time watching motocross and Supercross I have never seen a talent like Eli Tomac, who continually makes things exciting. Thinking back, no single rider has been responsible for more close championship battles than Eli. In the Eli Tomac era, almost all championships go down to the last round. He should be working on his third Monster Energy Supercross Championship. Instead we are treated to some of the most exciting racing action in my lifetime. Every week it’s something new from Eli, either a world-class or puzzling performance…we never know what he will deliver. Eli is his own personal “Chase Format” and I appreciate him in both his glory and in his bewilderment.

Follow me @chriscooksey61 on Instagram and Twitter and @Cookseymedia on Facebook.

Chris Cooksey is life-long motocross enthusiast, racing professionally in arenacross, motocross and supermoto. Chris obtained his degree from Arizona State, majoring in business and communications. After college Chris immersed himself in the business and social media aspects of the industry. Chris enjoys sharing his opinions. Sit back and enjoy the view from his perspective.

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