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Mariana Pajon returns to Colombia

8/15/2012
Olympic gold medalist Mariana Pajon returned to Colombia on Tuesday, the nation's latest sports icon. Red Bull Content Pool

The night after Colombia's Mariana Pajon won Olympic gold in the women's BMX division at the London Games, she went to sleep wearing her medal. "I will continue dreaming," she said.

Pajon, 20, of Medellin, Colombia, won the gold medal in BMX racing amid a packed heat of riders that included Australia's Caroline Buchanan, the UK's Shanaze Reade and New Zealand's Sarah Walker.

She is the second Colombian ever to win a gold medal in the Olympics, following weightlifter Maria Isavel Urrutia, who won gold in 2000 in Sydney, Australia. (Colombian BMX team rider Carlos Mario Oquendo Zabala also secured a bronze medal in the men's BMX division in London.)

At the time when Urrutia won Olympic gold in 2000, Pajon had never raced BMX. Formerly a gymnast, Pajon dreamed of competing in the Olympics before discovering BMX racing. After transitioning into BMX, Pajon retained her Olympic goals, utilizing the support she needed to advance as a rider from her country.

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I will continue dreaming.

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--Mariana Pajon

"This is a very strong moment for Colombia cycling, there's been a lot of support in recent years and that's beginning to give results," said Pajon minutes after her Olympic victory.

Following Pajon's victorious weekend in the Olympic Village, she returned to Colombia on Tuesday as the nation's latest sports icon, and the nation celebrated her arrival. "I feel I have given Colombia what it deserves," said Pajon, whose Facebook and Twitter accounts were flooded with messages of support and thanks from thousands of residents of Colombia.

Pajon intends to take a few days off to rest, and will then continue to race in the BMX World Championships and the National Championships for the remainder of the year, her eyes now focused on a new, distant prize.

"There are at least two more Olympic cycles left to repeat the feat," said Pajon. "Rio 2016 and 2020." Pajon has achieved her Olympic goal, but continues to dream.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.