Cycling body refuses to relax minimum age

KEVIN TUTTY
Last updated 05:00 08/12/2011

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World junior mountain bike cross-country silver medallist Anton Cooper has been denied dispensation to compete at the London Olympics next year.

Mountain Bike New Zealand made the application to the UCI (the international cycling body) through the New Zealand Olympic Committee.

Cooper, 17, is New Zealand's top cross-country rider.

When the Olympics start in July he will still be 17. His 18th birthday is in August.

To compete in London he would have to be 19 by the end of 2012 in accordance with cycling rules.

Chris Mildon, the high performance manager of Mountain BikingNZ, said he made the inquiry because Cooper would have been a contender for the one spot New Zealand has in the Olympic race.

"We wanted to see if there was any flexibility around the age cut-off," said Mildon.

"Anton misses by eight months and they weren't willing to sway on it.

"It was definitely worth approaching them. Even if he can't compete in London, he has been identified for the development pathway for the 2016 Olympics [in Rio de Janeiro]."

Cooper said he wasn't expecting a positive reply from UCI.

"But if you don't ask you're never going to get anything. If I was born eights months earlier I would have been all right," he laughed.

"Now I know I can focus my goals on other races like the world champs and future events like the Commonwealth Games and the next Olympics [Rio 2016]."

Cooper said had he been allowed to compete at the Olympics it would have made for a tough year: "The world champs [in Austria] are only a month after the Olympics so trying to peak for both would have been hard.

"It's strange that they have a 19 year age limit when competitors in other sports like swimming and gymnastics can be 14 or 15. If you're good enough to compete, you should be able to, but rules are rules and I guess they're not going to change them for one, otherwise everyone will be expecting the same treatment, especially at that level."

Shot putter Jacko Gill, 16, is expected to compete in London next year.

And even though Cooper is still an age-group competitor, he is already the fastest rider in New Zealand.

At the New Zealand championships earlier this year, the elite riders started first and Cooper started two minutes later. By the end of his four laps on the same course he had caught and passed all the elite riders and was two minutes ahead of them.

Ashley Abbott, the NZOC communications manager, said the reply from the UCI said it was not possible to grant an exemption in Cooper's case because it had to preserve the integrity of its criteria on age restriction.

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"We were happy to make the inquiry for him. Our view is that the federations set the criteria for the health and wellbeing of athletes.

"He's clearly a young and talented athlete and come Rio there's every chance he will be in the frame for that competition," said Abbott.

Cooper's father, Paul, said the age limit was probably set a few years ago when cross-country races were around two hours in length but they were now about 90 minutes.

- The Press

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