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Orillia mountain biker earns silver medal at Pan Am championship

'My goal is to go to the Olympics and bring home a medal for Canada,' says Gunnar Holmgren, who won three medals for Canada at Pan Am events in Brazil

An Orillia cyclist is gearing up for what he hopes is a season to remember that could culminate in a trip to the Olympics.

But for now, Gunnar Holmgren, 23, is focusing on the present and pouring every ounce of his energy into being among the world’s best mountain bikers. He proved just that a few days ago.

Holmgren, Orillia athlete of the year in 2021, garnered three medals while representing Canada at the recent Pan American Mountain Bike Championships in Brazil, where the top athletes from North America, South America and Central America competed.

Team Canada started out strong, taking the gold medal in the team relay event, with Holmgren putting in a strong lap as the country’s elite male entry. He shone even though he faced slick conditions on the clay-based track when the skies opened up during his 12-minute effort.

Two days later, he competed in the short-track event, which is a 20-minute, high-paced, tactical NASCAR-style race on a two- to three-minute lap.

Holmgren positioned himself strategically throughout the race against some of the world’s best, sprinting to a bronze medal amid a field of 91 elite competitors.

He recovered from a scare mid-race when another rider made contact getting off the line. Despite losing numerous positions, Holmgren was able to keep himself upright and use his power to eventually rejoin the leaders.

On the final race day at arguably the most prestigious of mountain bike disciplines — the cross-country event — Holmgren showed his excellent form with a world-class performance, taking home the silver medal.

The race took one hour and 27 minutes for him to complete in a field that featured 93 starters.

He rode with composure, demonstrating his power and finesse on the climbs, where most riders were required to dismount their bicycles due to poor traction.

The winner of the men’s event was José Gerardo Ulloa Arévalo from Mexico.

Holmgren said he is happy with his performances in the early season, while gaining valuable UCI points to boost his international ranking.

Racers are coming into the season in top form as the Olympic qualification period has started; the cyclists are vying for points to qualify to represent their countries at the Paris 2024 Olympic Games.

He has spent several months leading training camps with younger cyclists from across Canada in Spain and Victoria, B.C., with the goal to raise the level of Canadian athletes and to assist in their preparation for international competition.

He is focusing on cycling and working on his coaching accreditation while helping train, mentor and lead more than 25 young, high-performance cyclists across the country this year. He is also an assistant coach on Cycling Ontario high performance projects and coaches mountain biking and cyclocross for Hardwood's Next Wave team.

Next on the race schedule, Holmgren will be heading to Nové Město na Moravě in the Czech Republic with his team, Pivot Cycles-OTE, based out of Quebec, for the first MTB World Cup of the 2023 season.

Ultimately, he says his goal is to represent Canada in Paris at the Olympics.

“My goal is to go to the Olympics and bring home a medal for Canada,” he told OrilliaMatters.

His success is not surprising to anyone who has followed his path. In 2021, Holmgren earned the title of Canadian National Mountain Biking champion in the under-23 men’s category. He also took first place that year at the Canada Cup in Sherbrooke, Que. He has also won a national cyclocross crown.

Cycling is in the family’s bloodline. His dad, Rob, is a longtime, high-level coach and both he and his wife, Lisa, were elite-level competitors who met through cycling.

Gunnar’s twin sisters, Isabella and Ava, made history in February at the 2023 UCI Cyclo-Cross World Championships in the Netherlands, winning gold and silver, respectively, against the best junior women’s racers from around the globe.

Holmgren and his family thank all of his supporters from Orillia and area who have encouraged him to make his mark in a sport typically dominated by European-based teams. He gave a “special shout out” to Bell Chiropractic, Thor Motors, Kawartha Voyageur and Mark IV Brothers.