Pajon, Willoughby, French men sweep BMX quarters, advance

Posted at 3:13 AM, Jul 29, 2021

Two-time defending Olympic gold medalist Mariana Pajon of Colombia, her runner-up in 2016 American Alise Willoughby, and France's Joris Daudet and Sylvain Andre all won each of their three quarterfinal runs Thursday morning in Japan to advance to the BMX racing semifinals.

The 24-rider fields were cut to 16 at Ariake Urban Sports Park, which features a circuit longer than what riders are used to by international standards. Each athlete races the same five riders over three runs and are scored based on finishes. The top four from each heat, or group of runs, move on.

Pajon seemed to master the track, as "The Queen of BMX" does, earning three points across her runs. The three-time world champion last made the world podium with a bronze in 2017, but she took the final two pre-Games World Cup races in May on home turf.

Willoughby, née Post, held off 2018 world bronze medalist Judy Baauw in her first two races, then came from behind in her last run, fourth-to-first, to sweep heat four's runs. The Minnesota native's silver at the 2016 Rio Games was the best Olympic finish by a U.S. woman in BMX racing history.

SEE MORE: France's Andre wins third BMX QF run, USA's Sharrah second

Daudet and Andre, both looking to deliver France its first Olympic medal in BMX racing, also swept their runs. Daudet has yet to make a Games final, missing in his first two Olympic appearances, but is a two-time world champion and won back-to-back World Cup races in May.

Fellow Frenchman Andre was the World Cup overall winner. He has a world medal of every color: silver in 2017, gold in 2018 and bronze in 2019.

BMX racing made its debut at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Tokyo marks its fourth Games appearance. Semifinals are Friday, or 9 p.m. Thursday ET.