Colombia's Pajon wins Olympic gold in BMX cycling

Associated Press

LONDON (AP) — Former world champion Mariana Pajon won the women's BMX competition, giving Colombia its first gold at the London Olympics on Friday.

Pajon, her country's flagbearer at the opening ceremony, led from the start on the challenging course and crossed the line in 37.706 seconds after a flawless run.

With David Beckham watching from the stands, Pajon hit form at the right time after being hampered by a shoulder injury earlier this season.

"I've been trying to win this my whole life. I just wanted go out of the gate and win it. It's unbelievable," she said.

Seconds after crossing the line, Pajon blew kisses to the capacity crowd as members of the Colombian team started to celebrate. She then was cheered by a couple dozen Colombian fans packed into a small section of the stands.

Pajon credited her win on the dangerous and technical course to the quick start coming out of the first corner ahead of her rivals. Pajon had posted three consecutive wins in the semifinals earlier Friday.

"I have tried so hard for it, and I just did it," she said. "I felt really strong, I had really good gates and that's it. I really had fun on it. ... I have to wake up tomorrow and realize what I have just won."

Sarah Walker of New Zealand claimed silver and Laura Smulders of the Netherlands took bronze.

Home favorite Shanaze Reade of Britain, who crashed out of the final in Beijing four years ago, was never in contention and ended sixth.

"The race schedule has been pretty hard, with the back-to-back laps," she said. "It's been hard to recover. I just tried to stay focused and do my absolute best, but today it just wasn't good enough."

Reade praised Pajon for her consecutive wins in the semifinals and final.

"I don't know how she's gone today, but she's obviously a fantastic athlete," Reade said.

World champion Magalie Pottier of France spent the race in the pack and finished seventh ahead of Brooke Crain of the United States.

The 19-year-old Crain, a late substitute for Arielle Martin who crashed during practice before the games, rode with the initials of her injured teammate on the palm of her left glove.

In the men's race, Carlos Mario Oquendo Zabala gave Colombia a second medal with a third-place finish in the final. Defending champion Maris Strombergs of Latvia retained his title and Sam Willoughby of Australia took silver.

Squel Stein of Brazil crashed during the semifinals and was taken off the course on a stretcher. Stein fell off her bike after she landed on the grass following a big jump in the first half of the course. She was to undergo medical exams at a clinic in the athletes village later Friday.

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