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“I can’t describe how great this feels. It’s a moment I’ve been dreaming of since I was 16,” said Connor Fields after being crowned men’s BMX champion at Rio 2016. “To finally hear the words ‘Olympic champion’ after my name is like a dream. But tomorrow I’m going to wake up and it will be real!”
The Las Vegas resident brought to an end the dominance of Latvia’s Maris Strombergs, who had won both previous Olympic golds since the introduction of BMX to the Olympic programme at Beijing 2008. In Rio, Strombergs could not make it beyond the quarter-finals. Also exiting the competition at that stage was reigning world champion Joris Daudet of France.
And at the end of a hugely exciting contest, Fields was awarded the gold after being adjudged to have pipped Dutchman Jelle van Gorkom to the line by 68 hundredths of a second. There was an even tighter decision for the bronze medal. Initially it appeared that Nicholas Long (USA) would get it. However, a review of the photo-finish by the judging panel saw it awarded instead to Colombia’s Carlos Alberto Ramirez, who was deemed to have been five thousandths of a second faster!
Fields said he felt confident he could win gold right from the off. “I made my best ever start. I was in second place at the first turn, and from there my instincts took over and I went out in front. There was a moment towards the end where I realised I was about to win. I could see the gold 70 metres in front of me. At the end, I went down on my knees. I couldn’t believe it…”
For silver medallist Van Gorkom, winning silver was, he said, the reward for nine years of hard work. “It’s just incredible. I felt strong every time I raced, and my confidence grew and grew. It was difficult to find the best line, but with every race I just felt better and better. I knew that I was in third place at the last turn, but I wanted more than that. So I took a risk and went all out for the silver. It feels incredible to win silver in such a strong competition.”
For Ramirez, the bronze medal “tasted like gold”, and he acknowledged the support he had received from the crowd. “There were so many Colombians in the stands and that gave me the energy I needed. I knew that anything was possible right up to the last turn of the pedal.”
Roared on by a noisy contingent of her compatriots in the stands, Colombia’s Mariana Pajon completed a successful defence of her Olympic title in the women’s event, underlining her status as the world’s best female rider. The Medellín native was quickest in qualifying, and went on to deliver a dominant display in the final.
Tall, but blessed with a light physique, the 24-year-old added to her impressive list of honours, which includes three world titles (2011, 2014, 2016) and the Olympic gold she won in London four years earlier. In Rio, she deprived the USA of a men’s-women’s double, as she relegated American rider Alise Post to the silver. “Winning a second gold is completely crazy,” said Pajon, who echoed Ramirez’s sentiments about the support from the stands. “I felt completely at home with so many Colombians in the crowd. They gave me a lot of energy.”
For her part, Post acknowledged that she had been outclassed by her Colombian rival. “I thought I had the legs for it… but Mariana Pajon rode a great race. I felt I had a chance of winning, but I’m still delighted to have got the silver. It’s just amazing. »
Completing a podium which boasted a strong South American influence, Stefany Hernandez of Venezuela finished third – just 0.32 seconds behind Post.