The unstoppable teenage sensation Mariana ‘Tata’ Pajon is on her bike and pedalling hard towards the 2012 Olympic Games. We caught up with the Colombian BMXer after her victory in the UCI in Argentina put her in pole position in the race to London.
What a way to start the New Year! How did it feel to be back in competitive action and winning another Elite title?
It feels great. Winning the UCI race in Argentina and picking up the Olympic ranking points was the best possible way to start 2011. The win has given me confidence and this will help me a lot. I’m already looking forward to getting out there and competing again.
This victory must give you more happy memories of Parque San Martin in Cordoba, Argentina?
This park is so important to me. I won my first world title in Parque San Martin at the age of nine and now I have more happy memories of Cordoba. I really like a park which offers a technical challenge and that is what they have at Parque San Martin.
The gold medal puts you on the road to qualifying for the 2012 Olympic Games. Can you hear London Calling?
The Olympics are always in my head. I train, I eat, I sleep and I dream thinking about London. Everything I do is because I want to be there at the 2012 Olympic Games.
For anybody wanting to see excitement at the Olympics, how would you persuade them to come and cheer you on at the BMX event?
BMX is changing and respect for the sport is growing all the time. I’ve seen the track designs for London and it looks awesome; very technical with some big, big jumps. In the Beijing games, BMX was definitely one of the most exciting sports in the competition and the crowds loved it. I have a feeling that in London it will be even better so I really recommend people to come and take a look.
I train, I eat, I sleep and I dream thinking about London
How do you expect the atmosphere in the 6,000-seater arena in London will compare with other BMX events you have raced in?
It’s going to be very different and on a bigger scale than anything I have seen before. This is one of the major reasons I’m looking forward to it and believe I will love it so much. The London Olympics is giving the opportunity to everybody who wants to watch BMX to experience the event. Because of the importance that the Olympics are giving our sport the interest in BMX is going to increase massively.
So you see BMX going from strength to strength right now?
Just to know that BMX will be at the London Olympics and also at the Rio Olympics is a great feeling. It’s great to have so many important competitions and more and more companies believing in BMX not just as an extreme sport but also a professional sport. It means that things are getting serious for BMX and that means the future of the sport will be good for everybody involved.
With superstars such as yourself and Daniel Dhers do you see a bright future for BMX in South America?
For sure, new athletes are arriving all the time and pushing up the level of competition. It’s important to help more and more people get involved with BMX and grow the sport. I like the example of Sifiso Nhlapo in South Africa, he’s setting a great example for everyone in his country. He is a hero to many people and that is helping BMX grow in South Africa.
What sort of reaction do you receive when you compete against men in competitions?
I’ve been racing with boys since I was four years old and this has been a great help to me. When I was young it was sometimes difficult for me to race with the boys. Some parents would send letters to the organizers of competitions and complain about me racing with their children. I think all that has changed now, these days when I race with the guys they seem to like it. I know they definitely don’t want me to beat them so the competition gets very technical and difficult.
'Fear is there every time I race, that’s normal.'
How do you control any fears before a race and how do you cope with injuries?
Fear is there every time I race, that’s normal. The trick is to make that fear help you by transforming it into adrenaline. The times when I’m injured are horrible. It’s the worse feeling to be able to do nothing except rest and recover. The best way to get back to riding as soon as possible is to listen to the doctors.
Has preventing injury got anything to do with you studying to become a doctor?
That’s a great idea! What I really want to do is help athletes to maintain their health and allow them to compete in top competitions. At the moment I’m traveling and training so much that I’ve had to put off college until after the 2012 Olympics. I’m still finding a little bit of time to learn French though.
With all your commitments to BMX is there anything you miss from living a ‘normal’ teenage life?
BMX has opened the doors to a life full of opportunities and happy memories. All I have now is because of BMX and the help of my family. I don’t really miss anything about a ‘normal’ life because BMX is everything for me and to me this is normal.
How much does the support of your family help you to succeed?
My family has helped a lot. I born into the perfect family for sports and they have helped me so much. They are always there for me, they understand how life is as professional athlete and they understand what it takes to be the best. What I am now is because of them and I love them so much because of that.