The mountains surrounding Medellín, as well as the relatively new presence of a BMX track in town, seem to have spurred a burgeoning scene in the city of the past few years – Colombia has even seen three Olympic gold medals in the sport.
Ever since the 2012 London games, where Mariana Pajón and Carlos Mario Oquendo won gold and bronze respectively, BMX riding in Colombia has been on the rise. In Antioquia, there are over 40 BMX tracks, with more than 400 members of 38 BMX clubs. It wasn’t always this way.
It all started in 1975 when Ricardo Arango brought BMX to Colombia after reading BMX-action magazine. He decided the sport looked fun, and decided to jump off of various urban obstacles throughout Medellín on his modified bike. Others followed in his footsteps shortly thereafter – El Poblado, Conquistadores, Calasanz, and Belen were the hotspots for the emerging daredevils.
As the sport grew, it was evident that more tracks needed to be constructed to support the growing BMX-riding population, but in those early days, “it was a sport nobody paid any attention to. Nobody believed in BMX. People said, ‘it’s just a bunch of kids playing in dirt.’ There wasn’t any credibility to the sport,” Juan Fernando Castrillón recalled to El Tiempo.
But they knew they were going to do big things. The early Medellín BMX riders hosted competitions among themselves, which they promoted to various high schools around town. Various BMX clubs popped up around Medellín, and the need for more organization was not lost on the riders. In 1979, the Antioqueño League of American Cyclocross was born, to better supervise the various BMX clubs.
Worldwide success soon followed, with the crowning of the paisa Felipe Echeverry as 1984 world champion in the United States. The sport grew steadily over the following three decades. There have been 52 Colombian world champions in different categories since then, with the majority being paisas.
The culmination of Colombian BMX success came at the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London, where Colombia won gold and bronze. A paisa took home bronze in Rio as well.
What gives Medellín the BMX advantage over other cities? Why have the majority of the world champions, as well as three Olympic medalists, been paisas? The support and backing of the public sector has been key – the training of athletes, construction of BMX tracks and parks, promotion of the sport in high schools, have all been instrumental in the growth of the sport in Medellín.
But it’s the athletes themselves who really propeled the sport forward.
The athletes of Antioquia leave everything on the track, sacrificing other aspects of their lives to be the best, making minute decisions that effect seconds on the clock. This is the antioqueño, said Jorge Wilson Jaramillo to El Tiempo, BMX rider of 30 years, “the antioqueño is impudent, daring, without limits.”
Augusto Castro, BMX world champion of many occasions, said to El Tiempo, “we’ve always had BMX champions in Medellín. And we’ve had this tradition our whole lives, that people have confidence – they want to become champions – and they are.”