TORONTO -- Felicia Stancil overcame a crash-filled women’s BMX final and came out on top amidst a field that included an Olympic champion and world champion to win Team USA’s first gold medal at the 2015 Pan American Games Saturday in Toronto.
Meanwhile, Nic Long claimed bronze in an equally chaotic men’s race.
Stancil, 20, brimmed with elation and disbelief as she greeted her family and snapped pictures with fans.
The Chicago-area native began training at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, California, after turning pro a year ago. She’s now regularly competing against some of the world’s best after spending most of her young career against those her own age.
“I think this is my first big win against the big girls,” she said.
Stancil crossed the finish line in 41.647 seconds after a massive pile-up in the first turn that claimed half the field, including teammate Alise Post, who had finished second, second and first in her three semifinal heats.
Post was not credited a disqualification and finished sixth, 40 seconds behind Stancil.
“A crash can just happen right in front of you, and you’re going 30 miles per hour,” Stancil said. “You just have to think really fast and be lucky. We’re in motors all day battling. They’re all fast here. It stinks for them and I wish them the best in the next race.”
In the men’s final, Long won bronze in a similarly chaotic finish after third-place finisher Carlos Ramirez Yepes of Colombia was disqualified in an off-course steer that also claimed Team USA’s Connor Fields.
Fields, one of the world’s top-ranked cyclists, was among the favorites heading into the medal race after sweeping all three of his heats in the quarterfinals.
“It’s BMX – it can happen at any time,” said Canada’s Tory Nyhaug, who claimed gold. “Nothing is for sure in this sport, if I’ve learned anything.”
Regardless of their final finish, all four U.S. athletes led the way throughout the qualifying rounds of the BMX competition in Toronto.
Stancil credited the team’s success to the Olympic Training Center, home of a state-of-the-art BMX facility where all four that competed on Saturday train. The track undergoes a regular overhaul to adapt to the forecasted venue that will be used in the upcoming Olympics.
“They just changed it up, so the track in Chula is actually going to be harder than the Rio track,” Stancil said. “It’ll be good because a lot of countries are training on our facility right now. It’ll be good because if you can do that well, if you can get that track as good as you can, the Olympic track will seem easy.”