Commonwealth Games: Kiwi 1-2

By Kris Shannon in Glasgow

Anton Cooper leads home Sam Gaze in the men's mountain bike race in Glasgow. Photo / Greg Bowker
Anton Cooper leads home Sam Gaze in the men's mountain bike race in Glasgow. Photo / Greg Bowker

Anton Cooper waited patiently then picked his time to attack. Sam Gaze was the only one capable of following.

With a double explosion of speed from the two Kiwi teenagers, Cooper and Gaze provided New Zealand with its indelible image of the 20th Commonwealth Games.

The mountain bike duo this morning (NZT) sealed an extraordinary one-two finish in the men's cross-country race on the hills of Cathkin Braes, overlooking Glasgow, leaving it late before shrugging off the Australian favourite to seize the top two steps on the podium.

Cooper showed as much emotion as any winner at these Games, crossing the line with a scream and punching the sky with a force that threatened to throw him from his bike.

He eventually skidded to a halt and turned around just in time for Gaze to fly into his arms. The teens had raced as rivals for much of the afternoon - with teamwork kept to a minimum according to the winner - but in that moment they were brothers in black.

"I don't really know what to think - I'm just bloody stoked," Cooper said. "It's a dream come true.

"The last couple of months of training have been super tough but to see it pay off like this is huge."

The finish, with the riders crossing only three seconds apart, evoked memories of Hamish Carter and Bevan Docherty dominating a golden afternoon at the Athens Olympics a decade ago, when Cooper and Gaze were still in primary school.

Kiwi medalists Anton Cooper, right and Sam Gaze. Photo / Greg Bowker

Cooper, 19, and Gaze, 18, rode like battle-hardened veterans today, forming an initial two-man break on the opening lap before settling into a front group of four.

The pace was continually lifted as the rest of the field fell away and, once Canadian Max Plaxton was dropped, the Kiwi pair were soon left scrapping for the medals with Australian Daniel McConnell, the pre-race favourite and a professional 10 years their senior.

But with the final lap winding down and the finish line around the corner, Cooper took off. In what seemed like a mere few revolutions of the wheel, he was out of sight and the gold was won.

"I knew when I had to go, I was kind of picturing in my head each lap," he said. "I caught them off-guard and I just felt really fresh right to the last lap. I felt like I had another few left in me still."

While that extra energy would be utilised in the coming celebrations, one question remained as Cooper sped away - whether Gaze would complete a dream day for the New Zealand team. And it was a question that found an answer only moments later, when he followed the move of his mate to secure silver.

"I really wanted to win but you can't always win them," Gaze said. "The next best thing was my countryman winning.

"We were together from the start of the race but, coming into that last lap, we were going to do our own thing. I'm so happy for him."

The feeling was mutual, with Cooper expressing the enjoyment the pair have experienced over the last week, preparing with an opponent of similar age and ability. And the two teenagers better get used to it, if today is anything to go by.

"It's been great having another fast Kiwi with me," Cooper said. "We're definitely going to have some close racing between us over the next few years. Well, maybe the rest of our careers."

While Cooper is correct, and as successful as those careers could turn out to be, it will be tough to top today's events.

- NZ Herald

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