RIO DE JANEIRO – As the sun began to set on Olympic BMX Centre, Sean Dwight predicted that Alise Post might be feeling a little disappointment. “She’s probably hurting right now,” the coach said, about two hours after Post won an Olympic silver medal. “She likes to win.”
Post did admit Friday that she didn’t get the prize she wanted at the Rio Games. The St. Cloud native looked plenty happy, though, to have a silver hanging around her neck. In a hotly contested final, Post could not catch world champion and defending Olympic gold medalist Mariana Pajon of Colombia, crossing the line .342 of a second behind.
It was a day of complicated emotions for Post. She felt honored and proud, she said, to record the best finish by a U.S. woman in Olympic BMX. Post also was thrilled at the performance of the U.S. team, as Connor Fields won the gold medal in the men’s race and two other riders — Brooke Crain in the women’s field and Nic Long in the men’s — finished fourth.
At the same time, Post felt “gutted” for her fiancé, Sam Willoughby of Australia, who finished sixth in the men’s race. Despite her tangled emotions, she beamed as she stepped onto the podium and saw the American flag raised over the park.
“I had great legs, but Pajon had a great race,” she said. “I felt like I had a win in my legs today, but I couldn’t be happier to get silver. It’s just great.
“As proud as I am of the U.S. team and how well everyone rode, of course my heart was with Sam. Unfortunately, it didn’t go his way today. I know he’s very proud of me. But it’s hard.”
BMX marked its third appearance at the Olympics in the usual style, with a metal band playing next to the start ramp and a party crowd in the stands. The Rio park was in a pastoral setting, tucked into the foothills north of the city, but the course was not nearly as serene as its surroundings.
Strong, shifting winds caused a rash of crashes in the men’s quarterfinals Thursday. The wind quieted for Friday’s semifinals and finals, leaving the course’s jumps, bumps and very sharp turns to bedevil the riders. Post has said for weeks she felt confident in her training and she was well-prepared to make up for her heartbreak at the 2012 Olympics.
Post crashed in the semifinals in London and did not get the chance to race for a medal. Dwight, who has coached her since 2009, said she was “emotionally immature” at the time and was unprepared for the Olympic pressure. Friday, he gave her a word of advice: Stop thinking about Willoughby’s races and concentrate only on her own.
“I said, ‘Look, we need to focus on you today,’ ” Dwight said. “I don’t want you watching Sam. That’s extra emotional energy that could be given to you when you’re up there on that hill.”
With her mind clear, Post finished third, second and third in her three semifinal runs to advance to the eight-woman final. Pajon had most of the crowd behind her, with hundreds of flag-waving Colombians singing and dancing in the stands.
Post blasted out of the gate in the final and held a slight lead at the bottom of the hill. She landed her first jump a little longer than she wanted, which caused her to lose speed — and gave Pajon an opening. Pajon slipped to the inside and moved ahead, with Post in close pursuit.
Exiting the first curve, Post momentarily dropped to third but surged back to trail only Pajon. “I was waiting to see if she made any mistakes to capitalize on,” Post said. “She did not. I was content with running my best lap and crossing for the silver medal.”
Once Post got over the line, she wrapped Dwight in a big hug and herself in an American flag. Then she ran off to watch Willoughby’s final. She was more nervous for him than for herself, she said, and accepted one of her sport’s hard truths: that it is nearly impossible for a BMX couple to have their best races on the same day.
In London, Willoughby had his moment, winning an Olympic silver medal. Friday, despite her conflicted feelings, Post was grateful to seize hers.
“We talked about putting the emotions aside as much as possible, and the emotions are high for everyone coming into a day like this,” Post said. “I did the work. I came in ready.
“I knew if I just did my best, I would come out successful, and I could be happy with what I’d done. It wasn’t a perfect day. But we made it work.”