Both winners had to show their best technical skills over the challenging course in Izu, featuring steep climbs, big drops, and even a boulder garden. Two of the pre-race favourites, Mathieu van der Poel of the Netherlands and France's Pauline Ferrand-Prevot, crashed while jumping off a rocky descent, with the Dutchman forced to retire from the men's event.
After Nino Schurter's triumph in Rio, the team from Switzerland did even better in Tokyo, sweeping the women's podium and coming away with a total of four Olympic medals.
Despite fielding both reigning world champions, Jordan Sarrou and Ferrand-Prevot, France was left with no medals, as Victor Koretzky and Loana Lecomte finished fifth and sixth in their respective races.
Below, we reflect on the most memorable moments, recap the medal winners, and look forward to the Paris 2024 Olympic Games in just three years!
Top 5 cycling mountain bike moments at Tokyo 2020
Here are some of the highlights from the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, which took place in 2021.
1: Multi-discipline star Pidcock overcomes injuries
Tom Pidcock has been juggling three different cycling disciplines (cyclo-cross, road, mountain bike) in his first season as a professional.
And despite having only raced in his first elite MTB World Cup event in May, the versatile 22-year-old cyclist won Great Britain's first MTB Olympic title after a scintillating display.
Pidcock started near the rear of the field and made his way to the front finishing 20 seconds ahead of Switzerland's world number one Mathias Flückiger who won silver.
The U23 world champion made an impressive recovery after breaking his collarbone in training in early June.
He admitted that his preparation was disrupted, but the Yorkshireman once again showed his natural talent and why he's a born mountain biker:
"I think my weight is important. During the season I'm less than 60 kilos," he revealed to Olympics.com.
"It's my weight and also my natural technical skills. I think, I can jump back and go downhill fast, even if I didn't ride it for two years."
2: Neff brushes off setbacks
"I want to win the gold medal, that is clear." Jolanda Neff stated her lofty ambitions already two years ago in an exclusive interview with Olympics.com.
Her road to the Tokyo 2020 Games was far from ideal. The 2017 world champion suffered a ruptured spleen and collapsed lung in a crash in North Carolina in December 2019. The injury would have seriously hurt her medal chances had the Games taken place in 2020.
The Swiss rider also broke her hand a few weeks before the Olympic race, but she managed to overcome this setback to claim a resounding victory in Tokyo, following a disappointing sixth place in Rio.
"I just hope that I don't wake up one moment and it's just a dream. It was my goal for today to enjoy it and have fun out there and I did have fun out there," Neff said after the race.
"Someone said to me that whoever wins this race is going to be a worthy champion because you're going to have to know how to ride your mountain bike - you need skills, you need everything.
"I'm just so incredibly happy to win on this track on this day. We've had one year of postponement and we did everything for this race."
3: Swiss riders shine
Jolanda Neff led a Swiss podium sweep in the women's event, with Sina Frei and Linda Indergand taking silver and bronze.
Switzerland hadn't filled the first three places at the Summer Olympics since 1936, while the last time any nation won gold, silver and bronze in a cycling event was in 1904.
The day before in the men's race, Mathias Flückiger added another silver to his collection, following two second places at the Worlds.
The results confirmed Switzerland's dominance in the discipline: With these four medals, Switzerland overtook France as the most successful country in Olympic mountain bike history (10 medals against six).
4: David Valero: from working in a bike shop to Olympic podium
Four years after Carlos Coloma's podium in Rio, another rider representing Spain claimed bronze in the men's event: David Valero.
The 32-year-old from Andalusia won his first Olympic medal after completing a spectacular comeback from 35th position.
Coached by Coloma, Valero - who was also European medallist in 2018 - is what you call a late bloomer: he started to compete in off-road events only 10 years ago and was working part-time as a bike mechanic before turning professional.
"For four years, I've been helping my father grow vegetables in our fields," he told El Pais.
"When I was 10, I started to work in a bike shop. I used to ride just to move from a place to another one, but 10 years ago I began to take mountain biking more seriously. For sure, working in a field is much harder than this!"
5: MTB legend Schurter misses out on historic medal
Valero ended Nino Schurter's dream to clinch an unprecedented fourth consecutive Olympic medal.
The Rio 2016 Olympic champion, who won bronze in Beijing and silver in London, faded in the last few laps of the men's event, with the Spaniard beating him by just eight seconds.
"I battled hard for third place but in the end it wasn't enough for a medal. I'm still proud of my performance," the eight-time world champion told reporters after the race.
One last look at MTB in Tokyo
At 35, Schurter did not rule out his participation at the Paris 2024 Olympics: "I'm not sure if I'm still competing in Paris, but I never say 'No'," he said with a big smile on his face.
Tokyo 2020 was the fourth and final Olympic race for Canadian veteran Catharine Pendrel, who came back to compete on the international stage only six months after giving birth.
"After the race, I was more nostalgic than other times," the 40-year-old Rio 2016 bronze medallist told reporters.
Pendrel finished 18th, over eight minutes behind gold medallist Neff, but she was proud of her performance and happy to inspire other women: “I’ve had so many women message me, women that would like to have children and women that do have children and recognise what it takes to get back to this level.”
At 37, former world champion and two-time Olympic silver medallist Maja Włoszczowska of Poland also had her 'last dance' at the Games as she announced her retirement at the end of the 2021 season.
Hello Paris 2024
"I want to go for the mountain bike and the road race in Paris – and the time trial as well, if they want me," said Tom Pidcock, who will be 25 at the next Games, before racing in Tokyo.
Britain's cycling phenom will be one to watch at Paris 2024, along with the Swiss and French riders, and fellow multi-discipline star van der Poel.
On the women's side, 22-year-old Loana Lecomte of France and 24-year-old Sina Frei are the up-and-coming prospects with room for improvement ahead of the next Games.
But they are likely to battle for a medal against Olympic champ Neff (still 28), and former world champions Ferrand-Prevot (29) and Kate Courtney (25) of the United States.
When and where to watch cycling mountain bike replays on Olympics.com
The answer is here: olympics.com/tokyo2020-replays
When do the top MTB riders compete next?
International MTB competitions have already resumed with the European championships in Novi Sad, Serbia, being the first big post-Games event (15 August).
Most of the stars will take part in the World Championships in Val di Sole, Italy, at end of August, followed by the two remaining World Cup events in Lenzerheide, Switzerland, and Snowshoe, United States, in September.
Full medals list in cycling mountain bike at Tokyo 2020 in 2021
Gold: Tom Pidcock (GBR)
Silver: Mathias Flückiger (SUI)
Bronze: David Valero (ESP)
Gold: Jolanda Neff (SUI)
Silver: Sina Frei (SUI)
Bronze: Linda Indergand (SUI)