Updated: Thursday, 31 May 2012 15:19 | By

Latvia: Maris Strombergs

Born: 10/03/1987

Latvia's Maris Strombergs negotiates the BMX course at Beijing 2008. (© Press Association)

Latvia's Maris Strombergs negotiates the BMX course at Beijing 2008.

Born: 10/03/1987

Place of birth: Valmiera, Latvia

Event: BMX Racing

Previous Olympics: 1

Previous medals: 1

It took Maris Strombergs just 36 seconds to create history at the Beijing 2008 Olympics.

The Latvian took an early lead in the final of the inaugural men's BMX event and kept his nerve to claim gold in a crash-filled race.

His achievement was even more remarkable considering Strombergs disliked his first taste of cycling when he was five years old. His father had taken him to the local BMX track to play with a family friend and Strombergs remembers crying because it was something he did not want to do. It took a week or two before he decided to give it another go, and he has not looked back since.

He was winning races from a young age and became European junior champion at the age of 18 in 2005.

Strombergs' ambition was always the Olympic title from the time, as a 16-year-old, that he heard the sport would make its debut at the Beijing Games.

He had already won the European and world titles in 2008 before his Olympic triumph in China which meant life would never be the same again, especially in his home nation.

"Things changed a lot," he recalls. "People back home started to take much more interest in the sport of BMX. When I came back from Beijing I was 21, and there were a lot of interviews. I guess I was often pretty nervous with all that. I often get recognised when I am in Latvia. One restaurant gave me a free pizza!"

Strombergs was his nation's first-ever Olympic cycling champion and only the second gold medallist since Latvia regained independence in 1991. He carried the Latvian flag at the closing ceremony in Beijing and was voted by the people of the Baltic nation as their Athlete of the Year.

The door soon opened to a professional career in the United States and he joined the National Bicycle League after moving to Murrieta in California.

He won the world title for the second time in 2010 but then suffered a major crash that left him with a broken hand, a dislocated wrist and a damaged shoulder.

Strombergs needed two operations and was unable to compete for over six months before returning to action and eventually winning an incredible silver medal at the 2011 World Championships.

He believes he can continue racing until the 2016 Olympics before retiring and with an intense dedication to his sport, he is hoping for much more success.

He said: "BMX is my life. I go to sleep with thoughts about BMX and wake up with thoughts about BMX.

"It is not about how strong you are in the gym or sprints, but how mentally strong you are. You can't win a lot of races without being strong mentally. Everything starts in your head."