Paola Pezzo won her first world championship in 1993 and was one of the favourites for the inaugural Olympic mountain biking contest in 1996. Early in the race, the Italian cyclist fell in a hairspin turn and scraped her knees. She remounted quickly and gradually caught up with the leaders. Shortly after the 11-kilometre mark in the 31.9km race, during an uphill stretch, she powered into the lead so fast that the other racers knew they were in trouble. Sure enough, Pezzo kept pulling away until her lead reached 1 minute 42 seconds, and she won by 1 minute 7 seconds.
At the Olympic Games in Sydney in 2000, Barbara Blatter of Switzerland led after the first of five laps, Russia's Alla Epifanova after the second and two-time defending world champion Margarita Fullana of Spain after the third. The critical moment of the race came late in the fourth lap. Pezzo passed Blatter to move into second place. Then she pulled alongside Fullana. On a downhill section, Pezzo and Fullana collided. Fullana went down. Pezzo came out of her pedals, but stayed upright, moved into the lead and drove to the finish line, never to be caught. She returned to the Olympic Games in 2004, but did not finish the race.