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Latvia's Maris Strombergs celebrates after winning the men's BMX event during the London 2012 Olympic Games at the BMX Track in the Olympic Park August 10, 2012. (STEFANO RELLANDINI/REUTERS)
Latvia's Maris Strombergs celebrates after winning the men's BMX event during the London 2012 Olympic Games at the BMX Track in the Olympic Park August 10, 2012. (STEFANO RELLANDINI/REUTERS)

Latvia’s Maris Strombergs retains BMX title at London 2012 Add to ...

Latvia’s Maris Strombergs, a man who cried when he first saw a BMX race, remained the only men’s Olympic champion in the discipline when he retained his title at the London Games on Friday.

Strombergs, who had failed to impress in the quarter and semi-finals, found his form to lead from the first bend to the finish line to beat Australian world champion and pre-race favourite Sam Willoughby.

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Colombian Carlos Mario Oquendo Zabala claimed bronze.

Strombergs had won the first Olympic men’s BMX title four years ago when the discipline was introduced in the Games in Beijing.

“When I started BMX, I was crying to be honest. I was 5-years-old when my father took me to the BMX track and when I saw all those big guys jumping those big doubles, I started crying,” Strombergs told a news conference.

“I said ‘No way dad’. But after another month I said to my dad, ‘OK, I’ll go again’ and that’s how I started.”

Strombergs had a great start and managed the first bend better than anyone else and kept his composure despite being under intense pressure from Willoughby.

“It was a pretty up and down two days but I don’t think anyone had a clean two days. Maris made a few mistakes yesterday and today I had a few mistakes but I ended up getting the job done and I am very satisfied getting a silver medal,” said Willoughby.

“Me and Maris have been battling the last three to four years and I have got nothing but respect for him. To win two golds in a row is a huge achievement, and to get a silver in my first Olympics is a huge honour.”

Dutchman Raymon van der Biezen, who had clocked the best time in the seeding run and had won his three quarter-final runs as well as the first of three semi-final dashes, settled for fourth.

American Connor Fields was one of two riders who crashed and took seventh place ahead of home hope Liam Phillips.

Phillips had been in decent form since Friday but lost control in the penultimate bend while he seemed in contention for a podium finish.

France’s Joris Daudet, who was among the favourites coming into the Games, crashed in the third run of the semi-finals and did not take part in the final run on the 450-metre track at the VeloPark.

Soccer’s David Beckham and British double Olympic track cycling champion Victoria Pendleton were in the stands.

Mariana Pajon, Colombia’s flag bearer at the opening ceremony, earned her country their first gold medal of the London Games when she thundered to victory in the women’s BMX event on Friday.

Pajon, also the second Colombian to win an Olympic gold after weightlifter Maria Isabel Urrutia prevailed in Sydney in 2000, had dominated her three semi-final runs in awe-inspiring fashion.

She carried the momentum in the final where she led the eight-rider strong field after the first bend and never looked back, something she was happy to do at a news conference later.

“I started gymnastics when I was five, but I started BMX when I was three,” she recalled, beaming with joy.

“I was doing gymnastics, BMX and cart racing. However BMX wasn’t at the Olympics and I wanted to be here, then BMX was introduced in Beijing and I started training.

“I started racing when I was three and I realized I could do this and do it well. I started winning at four with the boys and won my first world title at eight.”

New Zealand’s Sarah Walker took silver and Dutchwoman Laura Smulders claimed bronze while local British hopeful Shanaze Reade had to settle for sixth.

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