Cooper recalls a golden Comm Games moment

STILL GOING STRONG: Brent Cooper won the 1990 Commonwealth Games gold medal for judo. He still spars a couple of times a week.
STILL GOING STRONG: Brent Cooper won the 1990 Commonwealth Games gold medal for judo. He still spars a couple of times a week.

Brent Cooper has been involved in judo most of his life. He's the current national technical director and, in 1990, won gold at the Auckland Commonwealth Games. He's also the first subject in Fairfax Media's Where Are They Now Series leading into the Glasgow Games.

Brent Cooper won one of New Zealand's 17 gold medals at the 1990 Commonwealth Games, but he very nearly didn't compete. The Aucklander nearly packed up judo for good after what he calls a disappointing 1988 Olympics.

The Kiwi finished in a tie for fifth, but was "distraught" not to have won what would have been New Zealand's first and only Olympic medal in the martial art.

While most celebrated Cooper's achievement, the man himself was unhappy.

He'd missed selection for the 1984 Games and had been upset about that, too. Then missing out on a medal in Seoul nearly caused him to give the sport away.

"It took me quite a long time to get over it and I really was keen to give it up, but I was told to take a break and - we'd found out we [judo] were going to be in the Commonwealth Games - to focus on the Games."

Cooper did exactly that. Two years later, the Otaki-born Aucklander stood atop the podium and sang God Defend New Zealand knowing he'd - at least to some degree - made up for Seoul.

Cooper, a seventh dan, attended Japan's prestigious judo programme at the Tokai University. He'd committed a large chunk of his life to judo and the medal represented the time, sacrifice and hard work he'd put in.

It was a big year for the Cooper family. He was living in Japan with wife, Shoko, who fell pregnant with their first child late in 1989.

Cooper left his wife at home to return to Auckland to prepare for the Games which was "always going to be my swansong".

He won, while his team-mates won four more medals and little old judo was on the New Zealand map.

He spent three weeks travelling the country speaking and putting on demonstrations before heading back to Japan to prepare for the birth of his first child.

"It was like my 15 minutes of fame tour," he said.

"People were recognising me on the street, it was kind of fun. I had my three weeks of glory then I went back to Japan.

"I think it was the best thing because it brought me back down to earth. No-one in Japan really knew about the Commonwealth Games and I was about to become a father."

All of a sudden, there was a three- to four-hour-a-day gap in Cooper's life.

He'd hung up his gi for good and, while being a father took up plenty of his time, there was still room for a hobby.

He started tinkering with computers and quickly upskilled himself.

Cooper and Shoko had Nicholas shortly after the games and the family grew to four when Jeanni was born three years later. Cooper was transferred to Seattle for a stint but, when his company wanted to transfer him back to Japan, he and Shoko made a call to move to New Zealand. That was in 1999 and, soon after, he picked up a part-time coaching role with Judo New Zealand.

Cooper moved up to head coach and, in 2004 when the chief executive left, it was decided Cooper knew the organisation as well as anyone and he was asked to take over the top job, just for the short term. Four years later, he was still the interim boss. He decided enough was enough and left.

He still spars a couple of times a week and enjoys the camaraderie of his local club. His past hobby, computers, is now his business a consultant.

With that and his judo uniform business "both ticking along nicely", last year he took another opportunity to head back to judo administration. He's now the national technical director and, 24 years after winning gold in Auckland, has a close eye on the 11-fighter team preparing for next month's Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.

"My personal opinion is, six of the 11 have a real chance at winning a medal, but it's obviously tough."

The Press