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Pajon defends women's Olympic BMX gold, Fields wins for US

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) " Mariana Pajon of Colombia raised her BMX bike triumphantly in the air, another Olympic gold medal securely in hand.

Minutes later, American rider Connor Fields fell to his knees after crossing the finish line first in the men's final.

The United States isn't used to winning gold in this event, even if BMX traces its roots to Southern California.

BMX racing at the Rio de Janeiro Games came to a close Friday with Pajon successfully defending her gold and the United States claiming its first Olympic title in the unpredictable action sport.

"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."

American riders had already claimed a podium finish when Alise Post took silver behind Pajon. The United States had been shut out from the medal stand in 2012 in London.

Stefany Hernandez of Venezuela won the bronze on Friday.

Pajon had an impressive run in Rio, winning all three of her semifinal heats. She finished the nearly quarter-mile course filled with bumps and turns in 34.093 seconds, beating Post by .342 seconds.

"My first gold was huge. But two is amazing," said Pajon, struggling to find words after the race.

A legion of vocal fans wearing Team Colombia shirts or waving Colombia's yellow, blue and red flags filled in any blanks.

"Mariana! Mariana!" cried out fans elbowing each other for Pajon autographs near the finish line.

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.

Pajon will take home a bigger prize when she returns to Medellin.

"I felt like I was home. I felt like I was in Colombia," Pajon said.

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.

Fields completed the course in 34.642 seconds, holding off Dutch rider Jelle van Gorkom by .674 seconds.

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 needed a special brace to compete in Rio.

In the final, 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.

"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."

There was a photo finish for third, with Carlos Ramirez Yepes of Colombia just edging out the United States' Nic Long for the bronze. Officials went to a video replay to determine that medal.

Still, it was a banner day for the United States.

"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."

BMX power Australia had a disappointing showing. Medal favorite Caroline Buchanan didn't make the final after slipping in the first turn of her third women's semifinal heat. Teammate Sam Willoughby, the 2012 silver medalist, finished sixth in the men's final.

Willoughby and Post are engaged, with a wedding date set for April.

"My heart is with Sam ... But it's BMX. It's one of those sports where anything can happen," Post said. "I guess we'll go home and discuss it over dinner with the dog."

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Online:

AP Summer Games: http://summergames.ap.org/

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Follow Genaro Armas at: https://twitter.com/GArmasAP

This story has been automatically published from the Associated Press wire which uses US spellings

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