Mountain Biking: Annie Last can be first one day

Briton finishes eighth on Olympic debut but future looks bright for 21-year-old and her sport

Annie Last did not finish first – or anywhere close to it – in the women's BMX event, the Olympics' penultimate bike race yesterday. Nonetheless, in a discipline in which Britain have not fielded a participant since 2000, Last's eighth place on the Hadleigh Farm circuit represents an important breakthrough: Britain's first top-10 finish in the event.

Early in the race, Last was involved in a break of four riders, alongside Julie Bresset of France, Georgia Gould of the US and defending Olympic champion Sylvia Spitz. The move went from the gun and although the lone Briton faded mid-race, with Bresset claiming the gold ahead of the vastly more experienced Spitz and Gould, Last's determination to take the event by the scruff of its neck made for a memorable Olympic debut.

"I wanted a clean start and a good run at it, and that went to plan," said Last, a keen horse-rider who only started bike racing aged 10 thanks to a bet with her brother.

The 21-year-old's performance was even more notable as it came on an exceptionally arduous 3.5-mile circuit. Perhaps appropriately given that the land is owned by the Salvation Army, the circuit's most difficult section – a stomach-churning jump on a narrow woodland circuit – is named The Leap of Faith.

Rather than divine inspiration, though, Last said she had been spurred on by the relentless series of triumphs for British cycling on the track and road throughout this Olympics, from Sir Chris Hoy clinching his sixth gold to Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins' time-trial victory.

"It's great being in such a successful team where we can claim so many medals," she said. And if British Cycling has yet to hit the heights in mountain biking, it is worth remembering that track racing was once barely a blip on the radar of GB sport. Last's eighth place could be the start of something much bigger in the years to come.