Visalia’s Brooke Crain just missed the podium in women’s BMX at the Rio Olympics, but the U.S. racing team was able to end its gold-medal drought when Connor Fields won the men’s final Friday.
Crain finished fourth at the Olympic BMX Centre, with Colombia’s Mariana Pajon successfully defending the gold she won four years earlier in London. Team USA’s Alise Post won silver and Venezuela’s Stefany Hernandez bronze.
The 23-year-old Crain, who was eighth in 2012, appeared to get a slow start out of the gate, then entering the final straightaway narrowly avoided getting caught up in a crash by Laura Smulders of the Netherlands.
Crain and her coach did not meet with media in Rio following the race, but she posted a video to her Instagram account thanking her family, friends, coaches and sponsors for their support.
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“Although fourth in the Olympics stinks just a little bit, you know, I’m proud of myself,” she said. “I gave it everything that I had today and that’s all I can ask for. Hopefully I’ll see you guys in four years in Tokyo, but until then I’m off to get a caipirinha.”
Crain had reached the final earlier Friday with a string of top finishes in the semifinals, taking third in the first run and runner-up in the next two while scoring a third-best seven points.
But it was Pajon, a fan favorite, who wound up the winner. She raised her bike in the air after pedaling to a stop across the finish line, acknowledging adoring fans in the stands and waving the yellow, blue and red flag of her country.
Fields was just as jubilant after his victory. He raced to the front of the men’s pack, then held off Dutch rider Jelle van Gorkom.
Carlos Ramirez Yepes of Colombia edged American Nic Long in a photo finish for the bronze. Officials went to replay to determine third place.
Still, it was a banner day for the United States, which was shut out of the medals stand in London and had never won gold in an event popularized in the late 1960s in Southern California.
“There was kind of a point where I exited the last corner and realized I was winning,” said Fields, his new medal draped around his neck. “I was like, ‘Get to the line! Get to the line!’ I crossed that finish line and dropped to my knees. I couldn’t believe it.”
It had been a trying few months for Fields, who broke a bone in his left hand in the spring. He returned to the bike in June and needed a special brace to compete in Rio.
Pajon, also the reigning world champion, enjoyed home-continent advantage and acknowledged loud fans who wore Team Colombia shirts. Pajon rode to the front early in each of her three semifinal heats, and never looked back, either after the first turn in the final.
“My first gold was huge,” said Pajon, struggling to find words after the race. “But two is amazing.”
She’s a star in Colombia, so much so that a BMX track has been named in her honor. She won a world title on that course in May.
“Mariana! Mariana!” fans cried while elbowing each other for Pajon autographs near the finish line.
“I felt like I was home,” she said. “I felt like I was in Colombia.”
The Associated Press’ Genaro C. Armas and Bee sportswriter Angel Moreno contributed to this report.
Olympic Cycling (BMX) Results
1. Connor Fields, United States, 34.642
2. Jelle van Gorkom, Netherlands, 35.316
3. Carlos Alberto Ramirez Yepes, Colombia, 35.517
4. Nicholas Long, United States, 35.522
5. Tory Nyhaug, Canada, 35.674
6. Sam Willoughby, Australia, 36.325
7. Niek Kimmann, Netherlands, 36.579
8. Anthony Dean, Australia, DNF
Heat 1 (all Runs)
1. Anthony Dean, Australia, 3 (Q)
2. Jelle van Gorkom, Netherlands, 11 (Q)
3. Carlos Alberto Ramirez Yepes, Colombia, 11 (Q)
4. Nicholas Long, United States, 12 (Q)
5. Corben Sharrah, United States, 12
6. Carlos Mario Oquendo Zabala, Colombia, 14
7. David Graf, Switzerland, 22
8. Luis Brethauer, Germany, 23
Heat 2 (all Runs)
1. Sam Willoughby, Australia, 3 (Q)
2. Connor Fields, United States, 10 (Q)
3. Niek Kimmann, Netherlands, 12 (Q)
4. Tory Nyhaug, Canada, 12 (Q)
5. Twan van Gendt, Netherlands, 14
6. Gonzalo Molina, Argentina, 16
7. Trent Jones, New Zealand, 17
8. Jefferson Milano, Venezuela, 24
1. Mariana Pajon, Colombia, 34.093
2. Alise Post, United States, 34.435
3. Stefany Hernandez, Venezuela, 34.755
4. Brooke Crain, United States, 35.520
5. Yaroslava Bondarenko, Russia, 36.017
6. Elke Vanhoof, Belgium, 39.538
7. Laura Smulders, Netherlands, 1:52.235
8. Manon Valentino, France, 2:41.109
Heat 1 (all runs)
1. Mariana Pajon, Colombia, 3 (Q)
2. Alise Post, United States, 8 (Q)
3. Stefany Hernandez, Venezuela, 11 (Q)
4. Manon Valentino, France, 12 (Q)
5. Maria Gabriela Diaz, Argentina, 17
6. Amanda Carr, Thailand, 18
7. Simone Christensen, Denmark, 18
8. Merle van Benthem, Netherlands, 21
Heat 2 (all runs)
1. Laura Smulders, Netherlands, 4 (Q)
2. Brooke Crain, United States, 7 (Q)
3. Elke Vanhoof, Belgium, 13 (Q)
4. Yaroslava Bondarenko, Russia, 13 (Q)
5. Caroline Buchanan, Australia, 13
6. Lauren Reynolds, Australia, 17
7. Nadja Pries, Germany, 19
8. Priscilla Stevaux Carnaval, Brazil, 22