My heart goes out to Sam Gaze who is copping plenty of flak after pulling off a sensational Houdini act to win gold in the cross country mountain bike at the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast.

While I do not agree with his post-race comments that his compatriot Anton Cooper, who won silver, should have waited for him while he pitted for a puncture, I don't believe Gaze meant what has been conceived as a one-upmanship middle finger gesture by him to Cooper when he continued to push on in his quest to win gold after seeing his New Zealand teammate stop.

Samuel Gaze celebrates winning the Men's Cross-country Mountain Bike in Nerang at the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games.
Samuel Gaze celebrates winning the Men's Cross-country Mountain Bike in Nerang at the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games.

I have known Gaze for a number of years.

I believe the gesture was simply a case of his emotions getting the better of him in the spur of the moment.

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After four years of blood, sweat and tears, and more than his share of heart-breaking injuries, he thought his chances had gone of turning a silver medal from the Glasgow Games into gold at Gold Coast.

He was simply frustrated by having to make the pit stop, looked up, saw Cooper and the bronze medal winning South African Alan Hatherly ride away in the distance and gave the one finger salute more in heartbreak than anything sinister.

Samuel Gaze and Anton Cooper celebrate winning the Men's Cross-country Mountain Bike in Nerang at the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games.
Samuel Gaze and Anton Cooper celebrate winning the Men's Cross-country Mountain Bike in Nerang at the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games.

I had the pleasure (or misfortune being the average rider that I am) to ride in the same grade as Gaze when he was a young, green-horn 'roadie' riding in Te Awamutu Sports Cycling Club's summer series — a 26km out-and-back weekly race around Mt Kakepuku.

As a sports journalist, I have also had the honour of covering Gaze's cycling career right through to becoming a world-class pro rider for the Specialized Mountainbike Team.

He has had a phenomenal start to the year, holding off the fast finishing world champion Nino Schurter to win the opening round of the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup in South Africa.

The Specialized team professional became the first New Zealander to win an elite world cup mountain bike title after the thrilling finish in Stellenbosch.

Cooper, from Trek Factory Racing, placed sixth, while Subway National Performance Hub rider Ben Oliver was runner-up in the elite under-23 race.

The trio have gone on to do New Zealand proud at Commonwealth Games, Oliver finishing an impressive fourth to complete a stunning 1, 2, 4 finish for the Kiwis.

Gaze is his own harshest critic. He is driven by the will to win, placing second is not in his vocabulary.

Spare a thought for this young man who has just done his country proud by winning Games gold.

After working his butt off for four years building for the Games, he had worked his way into the lead and had just mounted an attack on the seventh and final lap in a bid to distance him from second placed Cooper and the third placed South African when disaster struck.

By the time his mechanic had blasted a C02 canister into his back tyre valve and Gaze was back on the bike, Cooper had raced away to a seemingly unassailable lead of around 30 seconds with the South African lying second.

What unfolded was a super-human recovery job by Gaze, who firstly gathered in the South African, then in just half of the final 4.5km lap pulled off a daring passing manoeuvre on the world-class Cooper before winning a thrilling sprint finish to deservedly take gold.

Gaze should go down in folklore for his remarkable victory, given the massive hurdle he had to overcome.

He is still a young man growing up in this world.

In his head, he would have felt his chances of victory had gone down the gurgler when he pit stopped.

He has genuine remorse for his post-race reactions and comments.

Come on New Zealand, let bygones be bygones and bask in the glory of one of the all-time great Commonwealth Games gold medal winning rides on two wheels.