TOKYO (Reuters) - Colombia's BMX queen Mariana Pajon began her quest for a hat-trick of Olympic titles on Thursday exactly how she left off in Rio five years ago - looking invincible.
Pajon won all three heats of her quarter-final group and while it is impossible to cruise around in such a high-adrenaline sport, she looked supremely smooth.
American Connor Field, like Pajon coming in as Olympic champion, also made a commanding start at a baking-hot Ariake Urban Sport Park, winning two of his races and placing second in the other to roll into Friday's semi-finals.
"I'm feeling really confident," Pajon told Reuters. "I'm just grateful that I'm here again after everything I've been through."
The 29-year-old from Medellin suffered torn knee ligaments in a World Cup crash in 2018 and while she is no stranger to injuries having suffered 18 fractures in her career, it did threaten her Tokyo hopes.
But she looked as strong as ever on Thursday, making no mistakes around the course.
"It's a very different story this time with no fans and a strange preparation, but I'm doing my best. We have a great team and it's a dream to have my husband around, it's all just good energy so far."
Her husband is fellow BMX racer Vincemnt Pelluard, who now rides for Colombia having switched allegiance from France.
He also scraped into the men's semi-finals.
Field, in what could be his last Olympics, said he was happy with a solid start.
"It's all about advancing to the next round with the Olympic format," the Las Vegan, who brushed off the heat, said. "Looking forward to tomorrow and repeating the process."
Of the 24 riders who started in the men's and women's event on Thurday, eight were eliminated in each.
The top four riders from the three-leg semi-finals will progress to the final.
(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Stephen Coates)