Alongside Day were Marc Willers (NZ), Donny Robinson (USA), Sifiso Nhlapo (RSA), Andres Jimenez (Col), Arturs Matisons (Lat), Raymon van der Biezen (Ned) and Kyle Bennett (USA). Resembling a bedraggled Napoleon Dynamite off the bike, the lanky Day had looked unbeatable in qualifying and his dominance continued as he bagged a brace of firsts and a third in his semi runs. Fellow American Robinson and South African Nhlapo progressed comfortably behind Day, while a trio of mid-pack finishes from Jiminez saw him into the main event.
The second semi was an altogether more fraught battle. Strombergs was up against two Mtb World Championship silver medallists in Jared Graves (Aus) and Roger Rinderknecht (Sui), plus Cristian Daniel Becerine (Arg), Rob van den Wildenberg (Ned), Manual de Vecchi (Ita), Damien Goget (Fra) and Kamakazi (Aus). However the Latvian proved a class apart, claiming all three wins with ease. Behind him it was anyone’s game though. Of the challengers, Graves and van den Wildenberg seemed most capable and managed to avoid the carnage that saw Rinderknecht and Becerine strong-armed out in that notorious first berm in consecutive runs. It would be these two, plus Godet who would eventually line up for the final.
Unlike their female counterparts, the men’s race couldn’t have been tighter. There was so little space between them that another pile-up at the opening bend seemed inevitable. Thankfully the crash never materialised and going into the second straight Strombergs had nudged to the head of the field with Graves level on his left and the American pair just in his shadow. For a change it was the middle berm that was to take centre stage and provide the key medal-deciding moment. The Latvian rounded safely but as Graves moved down from his high position, Nhlapo washed out on the asphalt and took the Aussie’s bike from under him. That effectively ended the contest. Strombergs was clear and the two Americans had masses of space to assure them of a podium spot.
Day initially looked disconsolate but later admitted that he was ‘stoked’ to have won any Olympic medal. To be fair, Strombergs was by far the strongest on the big occasion and, for a country that barely features on the medal table, this was a massive result. As the new champion commented, he’s hoping his victory will spur on greater interest in his homeland: “We’re just a small country with maybe only 120 BMX’ers, so I hope this will bring lots of young riders to the sport.”
Gold — Maris Strombergs (Lat) 36.19secs
Silver — Mike Day (USA) 36.606secs
Bronze — Donny Robinson 36.972secs