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Cycling: Colombia's Pajon wins BMX gold at Pan Am Games

AP Photo XRM891, XRM890, XRM889, XRM885, XRM883

Eds: Updates with details, clarifies timeline of Pajon's injuries. With AP Photos.

Two-time Olympic gold medalist Mariana Pajon of Colombia won the BMX gold medal at the Pan Am Games on Friday. Pajon won all three of her semifinal runs before beating second-place Paola Reis of Brazil and bronze medalist Stefany Hernandez of Venezuela in the final.

By LUIS ANDRES HENAO

Associated Press

LIMA, Peru (AP) — A tattoo of the Olympic rings on the right wrist of two-time BMX gold medalist Mariana Pajon is now a badge of honor. A second tattoo on her left arm reading "Beyond gold" reminds her to strive for more.

The Colombian raised her bike triumphantly and held the yellow, blue and red national flag aloft again Friday when she won the BMX racing gold at the Pan American Games.

The victory continued to cement her legacy in a sport that traces its roots to southern California, but that Pajon has conquered since she won at the London Olympics in 2012 and again in Rio four years later.

Pajon also had a dominant performance in Lima, winning all three of her semifinal runs. She finished the nearly quarter-mile course filled with bumps and sharp turns in 36.323 seconds, beating Brazil's Paola Reis, who won silver. Stefany Hernandez of Venezuela took bronze.

"I've faced a lot of tough moments this year, so just to be able to be here is wild," the 27-year-old Pajon said after the race.

Last year, Pajon tore a ligament when she crashed on the first jump of the World Cup in the Netherlands and had to be carried off the course on a stretcher. She couldn't ride for months. She didn't know if she was going to walk again, let alone compete. So her first race back felt like an Olympic gold medal.

But she fell again during the recent World Cup in Belgium and arrived in Lima recovering from other injuries.

"Even though I fell at the (Belgium) World Cup, I left with good feelings at that World Cup," Pajon said. "I arrived to Lima feeling strong, even with micro-fractures in both arms, stitches in my elbows, sprains in the ankle and waist. I didn't know if I was going to race here. But the heart is stronger and propels you to come here."

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