Orillia's Gunnar Holmgren is Canada's golden boy.
The 24-year-old former Orillia Athlete of the Year struck gold at the Pan American Games in Santiago, Chile, earlier today.
Holmgren led much of the way, crossing the finish line in one hour, 17 minutes, 59 seconds in the gruelling men's cross-country event — almost a minute ahead of local fan favourite Martin Kossmann, of Chile.
"I'm super proud, obviously," Holmgren told CBC Sports after the race. "Canada has a big presence at these games and I really hope (my victory is) motivating and inspiring for the rest of the athletes."
Holmgren recently finished a stellar World Cup season that saw him ride to several top-15 finishes in XCC racing (one- to 1.5-kilometre circuit courses).
He also raced to a silver medal at the Pan Am Continental Championships in what's known as XCO, or cross-country Olympics racing, which features an off-road format.
In April, the Orillia native picked up three medals at the Pan American Mountain Bike Championships in Brazil, including gold in team relay as Canada's elite male entry.
Holmgren, an ÉSC Nouvelle-Alliance graduate, is now in his 10th year of racing competitively and sixth year racing in the World Cup circuit.
Holmgren was not the only local athlete to reach the podium in Chile. Jenn Jackson, of Barrie, won gold in the women's race in 1:20:35 to earn her first major international victory.
Jackson, 28, told reporters at the event she was inspired by Holmgren's performance.
"It feels like a perfect day," she told reporters. "There's just that little bit of (motivation), seeing one of your friends (Holmgren), someone you grew up riding with, achieve the best result they could here ... It just made me believe it's my turn.
"I just got to the front, set my pace and just tried to have a really calm ride," Jackson told CBC.
While the gold medal at the international event is meaningful to Holmgren, the Olympics have always been his ultimate goal.
"My goal is to go to the Olympics and bring home a medal for Canada," he told OrilliaMatters in May.
His stunning gold medal at the Pan American Games should buoy his chances of representing Canada at the world's biggest sporting event next year in Paris.
In September, he had an opportunity to test his mettle on the Olympic course designed specifically to challenge the world's top athletes at the 2024 Olympics.
The 4.35-km loop, with 110 metres of of elevation per lap, was constructed at Elancourt Hill just outside of Paris.
Each country sent its top prospects to the dress rehearsal race, and Holmgren was invited on behalf of Team Canada.
"It was pretty cool," he said. "They've built the track new for the Olympics and they started completely from scratch."
Holmgren, who has been racing competitively since he was five, is from a family of elite-level athletes. His parents, Lisa and Rob, were elite racers, and Rob is Gunnar's coach.
Rob Holmgren also coaches his twin daughters, Isabella and Ava. The 17-year-olds made history at the 2023 UCI Cyclo-Cross World Championships in the Netherlands in February, taking the top two positions in a gruelling race that featured the best junior women’s racers from around the globe.
— With files from Tyler Evans