Connor Fields and Mariana Pajon, the 2016 Olympic Champions
For the next four years Mariana Pajon (COL) and Connor Fields (USA) can claim their Olympic BMX Gold. For Mariana Pajon it's the second time in a row. What Olympic Gold did to her in Colombia four years ago is indescribable. She became a public figure, people recognized her in the streets and more or less became a celebrity in Medellin. She was the reason that BMX boomed in Colombia and her Olympic success helped get the 2016 UCI BMX World Championships come to her town. The gold medal also meant that she now has a BMX track named after her.
Pajon was the big favourite coming into the 2016 Olympics. She set a mark by clocking the fastest time in the seeding run. To be fair, she was the only female rider to jump the triple on the first jump the proper way. Where Alise Post (USA) cased the landing hard, and Caroline Buchanan (AUS) barely made it to the landing, Pajon showed smooth style an kept the wheels true. It's pleasing on the eyes. But style alone doesn't get you to the finish line in first, Mariana is the full package.
The Semi finals were all a win for Mariana; 1-1-1. Including the fastest seeding run she had dominated everything before the gate dropped of the final race. The Colombian GW rider picked the inside lane which helped her get the lead when Alise Post kept up with her on the first straight at least. Coming out of the first turn it was Pajon in first, and the many Colombian fans on the grandstands were going nuts. They saw what they came to see and got the party going while Pajon was completing her lap. When Mariana crossed the line she couldn't believe she did it again but in all honesty, there was no athlete more deserving of the gold.
Connor Fields gave the American BMX fans what they've wanted for so long, a gold medal in BMX. When fellow American Nic Long surprisingly grabbed the holeshot, Connor was right on his tail. Fields isn't someone to follow the rider in front of him so when Long made a little mistake, the rider from Henderson Nevada took over.
Getting a spot on the Olympic team wasn't a walk in the park for Fields. Technically he would have been an easy pick for Jamie Staff, but disaster struck in Manchester, England the week before the second round of the UCI BMX SX World Cup. A crash on the last straight, after miscalculating a jump, resulted in a broken bone in his hand. This way he missed both the World Cup in Manchester and Papendal, Netherlands. Moreover, Fields wasn't racing, or riding. Recovery took a long time and it wasn't sure if he would be ready for the Olympic Games in time. Connor received the 'coaches pick' which was a risky move on Jamie Staff's behalf as Connor had not been racing much at all prior to the Games. The excuse was right there in case Connor wouldn't do well in Rio, but Fields proved everyone wrong.
Making it through the Quarters and Semi finals went well, but Fields wasn't domination like his Australian fellows Sam Willoughby or Anthony Dean did. Eyes weren't on Fields for the win in Rio, let's put it that way. But Fields knows what winning is like, and had focused on this particular race for four years. He even painted the Rio skyline in his house to remind him on the goal. He'd left a space open just in case he would win a medal.
On the third straight in the finals Fields was leading the race and let Long and Jelle van Gorkom (NED) battle it out behind him for the other medal positions. Connor had his focus on that gold medal, the first BMX gold for the USA. His fist pump on the finish line was real and his scream was heard back in Henderson. America was stoked, they got some BMX gold. USA! USA! USA!
We have two amazing Gold medal winners in Mariana and Connor. The competition has four years to prepare themselves for Tokyo.