'Sporty Woodend kid' claims gold

ANTON COOPER: All smiles after winning gold in the cross-country mountain bike race.
ANTON COOPER: All smiles after winning gold in the cross-country mountain bike race.

At the age of two, Anton Cooper was riding a bike without trainer wheels. 

Growing up in Woodend, the naturally sporty kid would disappear out the back of the house with a wheelbarrow and spend hours building a mountain bike track.

''We'd have to haul him in for dinner,'' his dad, Paul, said yesterday.

''I can't count all the times he said, 'Dad, can you time me to see how fast I can go?' and I'd stand there with a timer and cheer him on.''

The former Christchurch Boys' High School pupil became a gold medallist at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow yesterday, beating fellow Kiwi Sam Gaze, who took silver. 

''He's had a tough few months but seeing the ecstasy on his face when he crossed the line . . . we knew he was back.''

Paul and Laila Cooper sat wide-eyed in front of the television and watched their 19-year-old son sprint away from Gaze and the world's third-ranked mountain biker, Australian Dan McConnell, to win the race.

''We were screaming.

''I think we woke all our neighbours up,'' Paul Cooper said.

Anton Cooper won the junior World Championships in Switzerland in 2011 and last year started racing with the Cannondale Factory Racing team, based in Germany. In April, while racing in South Africa, he contracted a severe case of food poisoning followed by another gastric bug in Australia a couple of weeks later.

Paul Cooper said his son was the sort of child who could ''fall down a long drop and come up with a gold chain around his neck''.

''He was the master of everything he tried and had a lot of good luck ... but he's balanced the ledger out again.''

His son had always loved New Zealand's back country huts and hiking. 

Laila Cooper had enjoyed having her son home for the last couple of months.

''I suppose all mothers do . . . it was good that he didn't have to worry about anything, he could just train and recover.''

She said he had always been ''very goal-oriented'', focused and hardworking.

He used to compete in cross country running but was ''always the shortest and smallest and struggled to keep up with the boys who had already had their growth spurts''.

He won his first mountain bike race at 11. 

Anton Cooper yesterday credited his time at home for his win.

''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.''

Earlier this year he said he never expected to win. 

Gary McNaughton, the teacher in charge of cycling at Boys' High, said Cooper was ''hardworking and humble''.

McNaughton had contacted his former pupil after hearing about his win and the school would perform the haka for Cooper via video link during the school assembly today.

He said Cooper was always focused on his cycling and would set goals each year, but he was ''still a normal teenager who hung out with his mates''.

Long-time friend Charles Murray, 18, met Cooper through cycling at the age of 11. 

''I used to race too and we raced against each other ... he beat me and I remember thinking 'this guy is good' and I've known him ever since.''

Murray, a student at Otago University, watched the race in his uni hall and ''jumped about like crazy'' when Cooper claimed gold.

''He's worked so hard and he deserves it.''

The Press