Mariana Pajon's long road back to the top of BMX

Colombia's double Olympic champion revealed her struggles after a nine-month injury layoff.

Mariana Pajon is finally back in the saddle, but her road to recovery was far from easy.

The double Olympic champion has just successfully returned to competition following a serious knee ligament injury which kept her out for nine months.

Colombia's 'Queen of BMX' triumphed in her comeback race at the end of February, claiming the first event of the national championship - the Copa Internacional Mariana Pajon - in Paipa.

"This victory represents a new start and is a motivation to keep going forward," said the 27-year-old.

She followed it up with another win on Saturday at the Copa Nacional in Manizales.

But Pajon admitted she had doubts before her return and revealed she faced mental and physical challenges during her lengthy recovery.

Pain and self-doubt

In May last year, the London 2012 and Rio 2016 gold medallist collided with another rider during the BMX Supercross World Cup event in the Dutch town of Papendal.

Pajon tore her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and partially ruptured a medial collateral ligament (MCL) in her left knee.

She told Colombia's El Tiempo, "I felt a pain that I had never experienced before. I immediately thought of (footballer Radamel) Falcao and how long he had been out recovering. I was worried."

Then came a long and difficult rehabilitation before feelings of self-doubt.

The eight-time world champion confessed, "It wasn't easy to see myself in that situation. I had complications: my knee cartilage was gone and I almost had to learn to walk again.

"I felt quite anxious and insecure: 'Will I make it? Will I not make it? Will I win? Will I lose?'" - Mariana Pajon on signing up for her first event after knee surgery

With help from her mental coach Jonathan Bustamante, little by little, Pajon found her confidence back.

"Every competition is an opportunity to succeed and every defeat is an opportunity to start again" she recently wrote in a post on Instagram, quoting her mentor.

Also crucial was support from her husband, French BMX racer Vincent Pelluard, who shared the podium with her in Paipa.

After her comeback, she said, "I think I'm still at 60 percent and I need to improve. But I want to take away something positive, and it was the pleasure of competing again."

And Colombia's only double Olympic champion now has her sights set on Tokyo 2020.

Pajon's quest for qualification points will kick off at the start of this year's BMX Supercross World Cup in Manchester at the end of April.

"I'll focus on getting a spot and it shouldn't be too hard. I'm preparing for that and I feel better every day."

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