The day is finally here. The entire BMX racing community across the world has been waiting four long years for this day. Welcome to the 2016 Olympic BMX racing finals in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. After a wild day of fireworks during the quarterfinals for Elite Men, their field of 32 has been riddled down to 16 and now both them and the ladies will take on three rounds of semis to determine the elite eight for each classes main event.
For the men, yesterday was stunning to say the least. We watched the two-time Olympic Gold medalist Maris Strombergs fail to move on to today’s qualifying rounds. Other big names joining him were Liam Phillips and Kyle Evans of Great Britain, Brazil’s Renato Rezende, and probably one of the most shocking eliminations of the day – the current World Champion Joris Daudet, of France. That shake up definitely changed the landscape for today, but in the end this is racing and there will always be winners, and always be those who fall short.
On the women’s side, their time trial runs are now in the past and they received an entire day to rest before loading into the gate for their semifinals. Big names on the block are Colombia’s Mariana Pajon, Australia’s Caroline Buchanan, America’s Alise Post and Brooke Crain, and the Netherland’s Lauara Smulders. Who would take the reigns for the day and who stumbled? We break it down lap by lap right here….
Women's Semi 1 – Run 1
Bam! The gate hit the deck and at the bottom of the hill it was American Alise Post and the defending Olympic gold medalist Marana Pajon in front. Post over jumped the first obstacle and fell of pace, which also shut down the chances of her moving over from the outside. Pajon took a clear lead all the way and by a good chunk. Post battled back into the third position and your top four go Pajon, Hernandez, Post, and Christensen.
Women's Semi 1 – Run 2
This was an absolute bar burner! With her third place finish in run one, Post was able to move closer. Once again Post and and Pajon were side by side down the front straight. Post could have slid over and shut out Pajon, but left the door open. She made up the ground in straight two, rolling fast and smooth. They remained bar-to-bar and ended with a photo finish. The big blow up though was in the final turn as Hernandez dived in hot and took out Christensen, Van Benthem, and herself while trying to make the pass. That left third and fourth place to go to Valentino and Diaz. Amanda Carr of Thailand also slid through to grab the fifth position. Definitely points shake up, so Post and Pajon should be safe and clear for the main event.
Women's Semi 1 – Run 3
The first heartbreak for the women just happened. After a fairly smooth, but tight and bumpy run, Pajon sailed to victory. Post would finish in third, but had some close calls after getting caught between the firefight that Hernandez and Christensen had going. Hernandez would escape the victor in second and Christensen's dreams ended as she hit the ground while trying to make anything happen. With the massive point scramble, your first four women to enter the main event are Mariana Pajon, Alise Post, Stefany Hernandez, and Manon Valentino.
Women's Semi 2 – Run 1
Australia's Buchanan and America's Crain are lined up in gates one and two. Down the hill and through the first straight they matched crank for crank. Crain had a slight advantage heading into the turn, but the inside line allowed Buchanan the opportunity to take the lead. Crain got a killer push out of the turn and pulled up next to the Aussie. Honestly this is the best I have seen Brooke Crain ride in a long time. Staying safe through the rhythm, the Netherlands Laura Smulders comes in hot on the inside and pushes Crain up and back to the third position. Top four, with a clean and easy run, Buchanan, Smulders, Crain, and Elke Vanhoof!
Women's Semi 2 – Run2
Brooke Crain definitely ate her Wheaties this morning….she shot out like a cannon and took the lead into turn one. Buchanan was on her back wheel, but looked to come unclipped and fell back a few spots. It pays to be out front, not just because Crain cruised to an easy finish, with Smulders barely passing her at the line, but there was carnage in the back over the first obstacle. The Brazilian, Cranaval, got wacky and flew into Laura Smulders. Both would hit the ground but got up and finished strong.
Women's Semi 2 – Run 3
Say it isn't so! The gate goes down and Caroline Buchanan struggles after a near dead sailor on the first obstacle. She looks to recover as Smulders and Crain take off to the front. Suddenly she nails the back wheel of zzzzzz in turn one and hits the ground. One of the favorites is down, out, and her Olympic dream comes to an end. Smulders and Crain go one, two with Vanhoof in third and Reynolds in four. Your four ladies moving on to fill out the women's final are Brooke Crain, Laura Smulders, Elke Vanhoof, and the Russian ride of Yaroslava Bondarenko. Welcome to the Olympics, where dreams are made as simply as they are crushed….
Men's Semi 1- Run 1
With two American's in this group (Nic Long and Corben Sharrah), the USA was yelling loud and proud! Unfortunately the two would struggle after a tight group. Long had a great start but made some bobbles and would fall back to fifth, with Sharrah following right behind in sixth across the line. The Australian Anthony Dean took it wire to wire with a solid pop and the inside line. The Netherlands Jelle Van Gorkom stuck a solid second and the Colombian duo of Oquendo and Ramirez once again took the third and fourth slots…
Men's Semi 1- Run 2
After a rough go in the first run, both American's needed to have some solid rides. The good news, they busted out of the gate and got out with Anthony Dean QUICK. Dean and Sharrah pulled away and led the pack, but Long fell back after getting caught up in traffic with the Colombian's. Everyone stayed clean and Dean went with the win, followed by Sharrah, and then once again the two Colombian riders of Ramirez in third and Oquendo in fourth. Long finished in fifth and will need a killer lap in the final round to get him into the main event. Fingers crossed!
Men's Semi 1- Run 3
What a wild run! Nic Long needed a solid ride and he did just that, but it was not good enough to win the race. Anthony Dean had another stellar lap with no issues, while Corben and Nic nearly imploded during a close call in turn one. Nic fell in line and took second while Sharrah pushed hard to come in fourth. Both Colombian boys hit the deck and finished fifth and sixth. Points scramble much? In the end, your first four men going to the final are Dean, Van Gorkom, Carlos Ramirez, and Nic Long. Unfortunately for Sharrah, he tied with long but due to the final round finish his Olympic journey has come to an end.
Men's Semi 2 – Run 1
When your heart rate jolts another 80% during the first round of the second men's semi group, you know it is going to be a great day! USA's Fields and Australia's Willoughby went elbow to elbow down the first straight, neither backing off. Twan Van Gendt worked his way up next to Fields, but started to fall back. Fields caught up to Willoughby and made things super tight in turn two as he leaned his elbow into the ribs of the Australian hot-shoe. Everyone kept it clean and the top four go Willoughby, Fields, Trent Jones, and Niek Kimman. Trent Jones was super impressive and had an awesome lap. Let's see if he can keep it up in run two.
Men's Semi 2 – Run 2
Willoughby took the snap and the holeshot, but not without Fields right on his back wheel. The two pulled away with Canadian Tory Nyhaug in tow – he was in need of a solid round after a rough first round. Trent Jones had a solid start, but hit that Mickey Mouse bump in the turn's apex to slip up and lose momentum. He would later get involved in a wreck over the berm jump with Molina and Jefferson Milano. Tally up the points and Van Gendt, Kimmann, and Jones are all tied with 10 heading into the third round. Connor and Sam should be safe, and Nyhaug sits in third with 9 points. It is going to be a battle royal to secure one of the spots for the big show!
Men's Semi 2 – Run 3
Another wild round in Rio, but the majority of it panned out quite well. Willoughby cruised to another win and remains undefeated thus far. Fields tested his limits with a sixth place finish, but luckily his low points left him second overall and he will be the second American to make the final. The Netherlands Niek Kimmann had some much needed relief after a stressful day of quarterfinal racing and found himself with a good finish to take his main event spot and the final of the elite eight is Canada's biggest cycling star, Tory Nyhaug.
Elite Women's Main
Tension mounted as the world's fastest ladies loaded into the gate. Reigning champion Mariana Pajon sat confidently in lane one while Alise Post was ready to bring Gold back to America. The gate hit the deck and they were off. Mariana had the best shot with the inside lane, but Post gained momentum on the bottom of the hill. She overshot the first obstacle just a bit, but it did not hurt her chances. Smulders was sandwiched between the two and they both went by out of turn one. Pajon was cruising with a clear track and Post was hunting like a cheetah chasing down a gazelle. Unfortunately Pajon had too much and crossed the line ahead of Post, once again taking the Gold back to Colombia!
Post had an amazing redemption with a second place silver finish for the USA! Her experience during 2012 in London left much to be desired as she missed the main and drug herself across the line. A silver medal truly helps solidify her as one of, if not the, best in American history. Also for America, watching Brooke Crain capp off a great week with a solid and extremely respectable fourth place finish was wonderful. Finally, to round out the podium was Venezuela's Stefany Hernandez, who at one point during the semis was unsure if she was even going to make the final.
Elite Men's Main
The Australian power duo of Sam Willoughby and Anthony Dean were lined up in gates one and two, right next to dean was American Nic long. The Netherlands Van Gorkom sat in lane four with Canada's Nyhaug in five. USA's Fields had gate six with Carlos Ramirez in seven and Niek Kimmann in eight.
The gate slammed down and Dean had a terrible start. Willoughby was pushing hard to hold the inside, but it was American's Nic Long and Connor Fields who squeezed out to the front of the pack and led the group into turn one. Long took the lead with Connor looking for an opening and SW91 hunting back in third. Out of turn two and over the Mt. Everest of step-ups, Long had issues and opened the line for Fields. Connor takes the pass and the lead with Long right behind him trying to hold off Van Gorkom and Willoughby. Fields led them into the final turn and across the Rio 2016 markings, Long went too wide and Van Gorkom slipped in to push him up to third. Ramirez shoots in out of nowhere and battled side-by-side with Long. Fields takes the win by more than five bike lengths with Van Gorkom in tow for two. Long and Ramirez have a photo finish! AMERICAN BRINGS HOME THE GOLD!!! Fields drops his bike and sprinted to his friends and USA Cycling coach Jamie Staff. The air was electric!
For American Connor Fields, his dream has come true. It was an extremely trying year after suffering a broken hand that nearly derailed his entire Olympic journey. Ending with Olympics gold is a true story of how grit and determination can propel you to the top of your given sport. It was truly amazing to see not only a world class athlete, but a personal friend take his career to new heights.
The Olympics Games of Rio are now officially over for us BMX racers, but it was truly unforgettable. Qualifiers filled the air with sadness as favorites were dropped early and redemption was made for America who suffered quite badly in London. There was not a single athlete who did not put everything on the line, and for that we can applaud them all. For some of these athletes, they may never see another opportunity to ride the Olympics, and for others they could have another shot come Tokyo in 2020. Until then, we sit back and watch as they grow and continue to amaze us all with their talent and determination to bring this sport to an entirely new level, globally…
Lastly, as a journalist, I try to stay as neutral as possible, especially considering my friendships of these athletes, but in this case my country pride prevails and all I can say is hell yeah to Team USA – see you when you get home!