Connor Fields wins first BMX gold medal for U.S.
RIO DE JANEIRO -- The United States has ended its gold-medal drought in BMX cycling after Connor Fields took the men's final.
It was a banner day for the United States. American cyclist Alise Post took silver in the women's race behind Colombia's Mariana Pajon, who successfully defended her gold. The medals for Fields and Post snapped a podium drought that began in London in 2012.
Fields fell to his knees after crossing the finish line in a time of 34.622 seconds, beating the Netherlands' Jelle van Gorkom by .684 seconds. It's the first time that Team USA has won BMX since the American-born action sport became an Olympic medal event in 2008.
"There was kind of a point where I exited the last corner and realized I was winning," said a smiling 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."
There was a photo finish for third, with Carlos Ramirez Yepes of Colombia just edging out the United States' Nic Long for the bronze.
Fields said he got off to the best start of his career, going 1-2 with Long out of the important first turn before breaking ahead.
It had been a trying few months for Fields, who broke a bone in his left hand in the spring. He only returned to the bike in June, and he needed a special brace to compete in Rio de Janeiro.
"I would be lying if I said there weren't any dark times," Fields said about coming back from injury. "They say adversity makes you stronger if you let it."
Fields was looking forward to returning to his mother's house in Las Vegas to make room in the garage for another prize. On the wall is a goal he wrote out as a teenager, written with a Sharpie.
It reads: "One day, I'll become an Olympic champion."
"If only my 14-year-old self could see this now," Fields recounted.
On the women's side, Pajon, a fan favorite, raised her bike in the air after pedaling to a stop across the finish line, acknowledging the adoring fans in the stands waving the yellow, blue and red flag of her home country.
She raced to the front early and completed the nearly quarter-mile-long course filled with bumps and twists in 34.093 seconds -- .342 seconds faster than Post.
"Connor is the first [American] gold medalist in BMX. And I'm very, very proud, this is the top women's result," said Post, holding up her silver medal. "I think we can only go forward from here and be proud of our team."
Stefany Hernandez of Venezuela won the bronze. France's Manon Valentino was taken off a stretcher after crossing the finish line, appearing to favor her left side.
"My first gold was huge. But two is amazing," said Pajon, struggling to find words after the race.