The USA’s Connor Fields and Mariana Pajon of Colombia topped the Rio 2016 BMX podiums on 19 August, the American powering to gold in the men’s event and Pajon doing likewise in the women’s to successfully defend the title she won at London 2012.
Fields’ victory at the X Park came in thrilling fashion. Trailing compatriot Nicholas Long at the halfway point of the final, Field’s produced a stunning couple of turns to take the title from Jelle van Gorkom of the Netherlands. Colombia’s Carlos Alberto Ramirez Yepes was third after edging out Long in a photo finish.
Having made a full recovery from a broken hand in April, an understandably ecstatic Fields threw down his bike in the finish area and leapt into the arms of his support team. Giving his reaction to becoming the first USA athlete to win gold in cycling BMX, he said: “I cannot even describe it. It is a moment that I dreamed about since I was 15 years old.
“To finally hear the words ‘Olympic champion’ and then my name, it honestly feels like a dream. But tomorrow I am going to wake up, and it is going to be real. It is an incredible feeling. It is so awesome to have my dad here to share it with me, my coach, and everyone who helped me to get to this point. This one goes out to them.”
Van Gorkom’s silver was his country’s second BMX medal, after Laura Smulder’s bronze in the women’s event at London 2012, while Ramirez’s bronze was his country’s fourth medal in the discipline. “This is just incredible to medal against such a strong field here, said the Dutch rider, while Ramirez commented: “This medal tastes like gold. After all that I have been through, to be able to win bronze is just something extraordinary.”
Pajon does it again
The colourful band of Colombian fans populating the X Park had even more to celebrate when Pajon retained her Olympic title. The 24-year-old from Medellin, who became a national treasure after winning her country’s second-ever Olympic gold in London, did not put a wheel out of place over the jumps and round the curves of the track.
Shooting ahead from the start gate, she maintained total control of the final to lead Alise Post of the USA and Venezuela’s Stefany Hernandez across the line. Responding to the chants of her jubilant compatriots in the stands, Pajon lifted her bicycle above her head as she celebrated her second Olympic gold, a feat unique in the history of Colombian sport. “This is better than anything,” she said. “It’s so beautiful. Already to win two gold medals it’s just crazy. I raced well. I feel like I was at home with so many Colombian fans in the grandstands. It filled me with energy.”
“It wasn’t the medal that I was racing for,” commented runner-up Post. “I had great legs but Pajon had a great race. I felt like I had a win in my legs today, but I couldn’t be happier to get silver. It is just great.” Venezuela’s second medallist at Rio 2016, after Yulimar Rojas won silver in the women’s triple jump, Hernandez said: “I’m happy to have given my country another medal, but we’ll keep on working to try and get the gold. I dedicate this medal to the whole of Venezuela.