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Cooper 'stoked' with his mountainbike gold

MATT RICHENS IN GLASGOW
Last updated 07:33 30/07/2014
LAWRENCE SMITH/Stuff.co.nz

Anton Cooper talks through his gold medal race in the final of the men's mountain bike at the Commonwealth Games.

Sam Gaze
LAWRENCE SMITH/Fairfax NZ
SILVER LINING: Sam Gaze captured silver to secure New Zealand's first gold-silver double of the Commonwealth Games.

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Anton Cooper and Sam Gaze didn't just win New Zealand's first gold-silver double of the Commonwealth Games, they upset the hottest of favourites to do it. 

The talented teens did a number on Australian Dan McConnell, the world's third ranked mountain biker and the man most assumed was a lock to win the gold at Glasgow's Cathkin Braes Mountainbike Trails.

Cooper, the 19-year-old from Woodend just north of Christchurch and 18-year-old Gaze from Te Awamutu, rode the majority of the 37km cross country race with McConnell and Canadian Max Plaxton.

The trio dropped Plaxton on the seventh and final lap, but even then most watching assumed McConnell would have the experience and nous to win. 

But the quick pace Cooper and Gaze had forced throughout took its toll on the 28-year-old, five-time Oceania Champion and when Cooper blasted away 500m from the line, McConnell had nothing left. 

Cooper's sprint was breath-taking, putting 20m on Gaze and McConnell in an instant.

Gaze and McConnell tried to go too, but it was too late and when Gaze got up to speed, McConnell resigned himself to the bronze and cruised home.
"I caught them off-guard and I just felt really fresh right to the last lap," Cooper said.

"I felt like I had another few left in me still, but that's just the type of course it was, I think."

Cooper charged up the final hill and crossed the line both fists in the air and a roar. 

"I don't really know what to think, I'm just bloody stoked.

"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 for me."

Gaze was disappointed not to win, but showed maturity beyond his years in finding the positive in the New Zealand one-two.

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

"I'm so happy for him as well. He's had such a tough season. To come back and do this was a victory for me as well because it's a country thing."

Gaze's parents are back home in New Zealand and he hoped his silver medal was an adequate birthday present for father Chris. 

Cooper had been crook with food poisoning and then another gastro bug, but credited the time at home, training in Christchurch's Port Hills and mother Laila's home-cooked meals for his return to form. 

"It's been a tough few months," he said. 

"I got a bit sick and I had to head home. I've just been based at home in Christchurch over the winter. I stayed at home with the parents and they looked after me well. Mum cooked some good food and I was able to train well and deliver a result."

It was a result Cooper said he needed and he hoped it would be the kick-start his international season needs. 

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"Hopefully this is a sign of bigger and better things to come."

Being able to beat his good mate McConnell was also a big deal for Cooper, though it arguably meant more to Gaze.

"[McConnell's] top three in the world for elite men and it's amazing to beat him," Gaze said.

"I'm 18 he's 19 and we beat one of the best guys in the world. It shows what teamwork and pride does."

Earlier Karen Hanlen and Kate Fluker finished sixth and eighth respectively in the women's race won by Canada's Catharine Pendrel ahead of countrywoman Emily Batty and Australian Rebecca Henderson. 

Hanlen, who had surgery on a dodgy femoral artery just nine weeks ago, started well and led midway through the first lap.

She was caught before the two Kiwis spent plenty of the race together.

Hanlen took a minor spill early and when Fluker did the same late in the race, Hanlen pulled away. 

- Stuff

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