x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Latvian beats the nerves to pedal his way to rare double

Women's race won by former world champion from Columbia.

Maris Strombergs of Latvia overcame the threat of a handful of strong, younger challengers to become the Olympics' first double BMX champion yesterday.

Australian Sam Willoughby finished second for the silver with Carlos Oquendo of Colombia taking the bronze.

Strombergs, 25, claimed the maiden Olympic men's BMX gold when the sport made its debut in Beijing four years ago.

And despite coming up against younger riders who had shown their mettle in the unforgiving quarter-final and semi-final races, the Latvian stepped up when it mattered most.

He shot off the eight-metre high ramp and quickly built a slight lead on the rest of the eight-man field. Willoughby, 20, was hot on his heels but with several jumps and berms to negotiate, neither rider was free of danger.

Despite Willoughby's attempt at a late fightback on the closing bumps, Strombergs held on to triumph.

Before the competition, the Latvian had expressed his doubts in the face of strong competition.

After winning gold, he said: "It's so tiring and I still can't believe it. Deep inside I was confident but I think my nerves got the best of me, especially at the beginning of the race yesterday and today.

"But I tried to keep calm and I had a good conversation with my coach before the last moto [race] and deep inside I was confident.

"It's amazing. I still can't believe it. I need a few more minutes, man. It's just amazing."

Meanwhile, the former world champion Mariana Pajon, of Colombia, won gold in the women's BMX final after finishing ahead of New Zealand's Sarah Walker and Dutchwoman Laura Smulders.

Pajon burst down the start ramp and took the lead from the outset on the 440m women's circuit and was never headed.

At 20 years old, Pajon was the second youngest in the final behind 18-year-old Smulders and was one of the standout performers in the whole competition having won all three of her qualifying races on the way to the final.

"I can't believe it. It's like a dream come true," said Pajon, who claimed the women's world title in Copenhagen in 2011.

"My whole life I am trying to win this. I want to win it again. I want go out the gate and win it again. It's unbelievable."

* Agence France-Presse

The Final Shot, s16