It was a gold and silver medal for Great Britain in the BMX racing on Friday, with Bethany Shriever taking out a tight battle with two-time Olympic champion Mariana Pajon (Colombia) in the women’s event at the Tokyo Olympic Games, while in the men’s race Kye Whyte took out the silver medal behind Dutch rider Niek Kimmann.
The men’s final was first, with Kimmann and Romain Mahieu (France) the top qualifiers from the semi final rounds. However, it was Kimmann and the 21-year-old Whyte who were fastest out of the gate with the pair settling into their finishing positions on the very first corner. Colombia’s Carlos Alberto Ramirez Yepes worked his way through the field to take his second Olympic bronze, having also come third in the event at Rio. Mahieu ended up in sixth.
Then when the women lined up to take on the tarmac track filled with jumps, banks, rollers and berms, it came down to the wire.
The 22-year-old British rider Shriever, who had delivered a powerful performance through the semi finals, was quick to take the lead after the starting hill and fought hard not to relinquish her position at the front, however it wasn't easy to hold off the experienced Pajon. The Colombian – who won gold in both 2012 and 2016 – closed quickly but Shriever just held her off at the line.
“I had no idea if I was far in front or if they were close, so when I felt her there I was just like, ‘Keep it smooth, keep it smooth,’ and I managed to have just enough legs to get to the finish line, and obviously it killed me at the end there, but it was all worth it,” said Shriever after winning Great Britain's second cycling gold medal of the games.
“I’m just in bits. I tried my hardest out there today and to be rewarded with a gold medal is honestly mind-blowing. I kept my cool today, kept it simple, and it worked. I’m over the moon."
Dutch rider Merel Smulders took bronze, bringing another into the family after her sister Laura finished in third in 2012. Felicia Stancil of the United States finished just outside the medal positions in fourth.
The semi-finals and finals ran 45 minutes later than expected as there was rain when the event was initially scheduled, with workers out on the course sweeping and blowing away pools of water. The rain however cleared and the water at the Ariake Urban Sports Park was largely mopped up before competition got underway.
The men’s and women’s fields had already been whittled down to 16 before the semi-finals, cut down again to eight with three runs for each of the semi-final groups, which occurred just before the medal winning runs. A crash in the final run of the men's semi final heat meant the Olympics gold medallist from Rio wasn't in the medal race, with Connor Fields of the United States qualifying but not at the start gate after the heavy fall.
Australia's Saya Sakakibara missed out on qualifying for the women's final by just one place after a crash in the third semi-final run, while her teammate Lauren Reynolds made it through and delivered the best result of her three Olympic appearances, taking fifth place.
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