LONDON (AP) -- For Mariana Pajon, life has always been about speed and adrenaline.
By the age of 3, handling a BMX was easier than playing with a doll. No wonder she ended up Olympic champion on Friday after navigating through the technically challenging course at the London Velopark.
A former world champion, Pajon achieved the dream of her life by claiming the top spot on the podium to give Colombia its first gold medal of the London Games, and its second ever.
"I'm very happy and proud," she said. "I won't believe it until I wake up with my gold medal after going to sleep with it. This is a very strong moment for Colombia cycling."
The 20-year-old Pajon was still a child when weightlifter Maria Isabela Urrutia won Colombia's first gold in Sydney 12 years ago.
"It was a great moment for Colombia," she said. "Back then I had turned my focus to gymnastics and I thought I would come to the Olympics as a gymnast. I saw those moments and they filled me with pride and I wanted to come to the Olympics. Then BMX was introduced in Beijing and I started training."
BMX, a sport where risk-taking approaches often pay off, was suited for Pajon's fiery temper.
"I started racing when I was 3 and I realized I could do this and do it well," she said. "I started winning at 4 with the boys and won my first world title at 8."
On Friday, Pajon led from the start and crossed the line in 37.706 seconds after a flawless run. With David Beckham watching from the stands, she hit form at the right time after being hampered by a shoulder injury earlier this season.
"I've been trying to win this my whole life. I just wanted go out of the gate and win it. It's unbelievable," she said.
Seconds after crossing the line, Pajon blew kisses to the capacity crowd as members of the Colombian team started to celebrate. She then was cheered by a couple dozen Colombian fans packed into a small section of the stands.
"Off the track I'm all woman, but on the track I change completely and I become aggressive and I race like a man," Pajon said. "Then at the end of the race I become a girl again and of course I cried. I didn't believe it. I cried lot of tears. This a dream come true."
Pajon credited her win on the dangerous course to the quick start coming out of the first corner ahead of her rivals. Pajon had posted three consecutive wins in the semifinals earlier Friday.
"I have tried so hard for it, and I just did it," she said. "I felt really strong, I had really good gates and that's it. I really had fun on it."
Home favorite Shanaze Reade of Britain, who crashed out of the final in Beijing four years ago, was never in contention and ended sixth.
"The race schedule has been pretty hard, with the back-to-back laps," she said. "It's been hard to recover. I just tried to stay focused and do my absolute best, but today it just wasn't good enough."
Reade praised Pajon for her wins in the semifinals and final.
"I don't know how she's gone today, but she's obviously a fantastic athlete," Reade said.
The 19-year-old Crain, a late substitute for Arielle Martin, who crashed during practice before the games, rode with the initials of her injured teammate on the palm of her left glove.
In the men's race, Carlos Mario Oquendo gave Colombia a second medal with a third-place finish in the final. Defending champion Maris Strombergs of Latvia retained his title and Sam Willoughby of Australia took silver.
Squel Stein of Brazil crashed during the semifinals and was taken off the course on a stretcher. Stein fell off her bike after she landed on the grass following a big jump in the first half of the course.