Gifford: Cooper makes brutal finish look easy

PHIL GIFFORD
Last updated 16:57 31/07/2014
ONE-TWO: Anton Cooper celebrates as he crosses the line to win the men's mountain bike event ahead of fellow Kiwi teen Sam Gaze in Glasgow.
LAWRENCE SMITH/FAIRFAX MEDIA NZ
ONE-TWO: Anton Cooper celebrates as he crosses the line to win the men's mountain bike event ahead of fellow Kiwi teen Sam Gaze in Glasgow.

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OPINION: How impressive is the engine on 19-year-old mountain bike gold medal winner Anton Cooper?

After riding for almost 1h 40mins he sprints to the finish of the Cathkin Braes course, feeling so fresh he admits he feels ready for another lap.

Impressive enough if he's roaring downhill to the line. But in a tweak bordering on sadism the finishing stretch here is a trial of will and strength in itself.

When they built the course they opened it to the public.

Among the number of locals who took the chance to ride over the Cathkin Braes track before the Games start is a friend from Stirling, Stuart Wilson.

Stuart and his mates lean more towards endurance events. Little numbers like the Celtman extreme triathlon, which involves a lazy 16 hours or so of swimming, cycling and running a full marathon over a mountain range. Not soft in any way.

But even Stuart says there's one part of the Cathkin Braes trail he and his distance racing friends agree is brutal, and it's that climb to the finish line.

''It's steeper than it looks on television,'' he says, ''and the surface is gravel. You feel like you're riding in porridge. You sprint in that, after the speed these guys race at.'' He laughs. ''That's impressive.''

Quite reasonably Anton Cooper will have won a lot of new fans in New Zealand with his brilliant ride here. Be assured there's now a bunch of very fit Scotsmen who think he's pretty special too.

*If you talk to Lauren Boyle you'll find her thoughtful, polite and apparently mild mannered.

To be honest it's hard to picture her as fiercely competitive, driven to win. But there's plenty of concrete evidence that she is.

You could start with her gold in the 400 metres freestyle in Glasgow, which she won after having to exhaust herself the night before to take silver in the 800 metres.

You could go way back, to when she was growing up in Hobsonville, a lifestyle block dormitory suburb for Auckland, living every little girl's dream of riding her pony in every spare minute she has.

Every minute, that is, when she wasn't swimming, a sport she's devoted herself to since she was 16, after discovering, almost by accident, she was very, very good in the pool.

Or you could think about her reaction to finishing fourth at the Beijing Olympics.

Fourth was, she told reporters, a ''pretty crappy'' placing, which as a public statement is, for Boyle, as noteworthy as the Queen tripping on a corgi and saying ''bugger''.

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Basically she seems living proof civility doesn't preclude burning desire.

*A terrific feature of these Games has the integration of para sports into the main programmes in athletics and swimming. So a brilliant athlete like Kiwi para-swimmer Sophie Pascoe races in the same inspiring arena as Lauren Boyle.

The warm, deep, crowd reaction in Glasgow to those overcoming disabilities to compete has been tremendous. An example has been set that should never be relinquished.

- Stuff

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