Sam Gaze, I salute your mid­dle-fin­ger in­ten­sity

Our gold medal­ist moun­tain­biker raised a few eye­brows with his ges­ture... but he also raised the bar for pure com­pet­i­tive spirit.

Sunday News - - NEWS -

IT’S just the mid­dle fin­ger of your hand and yet in cer­tain con­texts when it is raised on its own and aimed to­wards some­one, it is ca­pa­ble of so much mean­ing and emo­tion.

Al­though this ges­ture has fea­tured a few times in the chron­i­cles of New Zealand sports, it ap­peared again just this week thanks to Sam Gaze, who pro­vided one of the most ex­hil­a­rat­ing mo­ments in this coun­try’s Com­mon­wealth Games his­tory when he won a gold medal in moun­tain bik­ing.

But he shocked and ap­palled some New Zealand sup­port­ers when, near the end of the race he did the fin­gers to his com­pa­triot An­ton Cooper after the guy didn’t stop when Gaze suf­fered a punc­ture.

Un­de­terred, Gaze came back to win a thrilling con­test. But Ki­wis ex­pect their sport­ing cham­pi­ons to have the hu­mil­ity of Sir Ed­mund Hil­lary and, after the race, Gaze was still up­set and gave Cooper a serve for be­ing un­sport­ing.

He later apol­o­gized to Cooper and then to the me­dia say­ing he re­gret­ted a mis­take he says he’ll have to live with for the rest of his life. He was also at pains to point out that his be­hav­iour is not in­dica­tive of the rest of his sport.

Gaze showed gen­uine re­morse and even copped a fine from the sport’s in­ter­na­tional body. Surely, now we can cut him some slack. Clearly, the young man is an in­tensely driven com­peti­tor and it’s pay­ing off be­cause he’s one of the fastest men in the world on a moun­tain bike. So is Cooper, who ac­cepted the apol­ogy. Both men are fierce ri­vals and Gaze says they’ve grown up rid­ing against each other. Per­haps, in part, it’s that ri­valry which helped pro­pel both to the top of their sport.

We ex­pect high stan­dards from our na­tional reps on an in­ter­na­tional stage and we all have a re­spon­si­bil­ity to the kids of the world to be good role mod­els. But it’s also good for the kids to see the sort of in­ten­sity that may be re­quired to reach the top of a sport, and it’s also good for the kids to see a cham­pion com­peti­tor apol­o­gise when they’ve messed up.

One of the best things about the Com­mon­wealth Games is that, for just a cou­ple of weeks, all the at­ten­tion isn’t on rugby and we get to en­joy meet­ing and learn­ing about Ki­wis who ex­cel in other sports.

These peo­ple per­haps aren’t mi­cro­man­aged to the same ex­tent as our rugby stars, and con­se­quently they aren’t afraid to be them­selves – even if some­times they exhibit it in the heat of com­pe­ti­tion when they’re at their most stressed and most vul­ner­a­ble.

Other sim­i­lar in­ci­dents in­volv­ing New Zealand sports­men I can re­call are all from rugby.

Who can for­get Andrew Mehrtens’ un­abashed glee in 1999 as he nailed a game-win­ning drop goal for the Cru­saders against the Bulls and then ran around giv­ing the home Pre­to­ria crowd both bar­rels? Or five years later, when the Cru­saders were on the re­ceiv­ing end of the same treat­ment from Car­los Spencer after he’d in­sti­gated a long range try and then kicked a cheeky side­line con­ver­sion that ce­mented the vic­tory for his Blues?

Of course, these mo­ments aren’t al­ways ap­pre­ci­ated or es­pe­cially nice to view. But as our Com­mon­wealth team’s Chef de Mis­sion Rob Wad­dell said: it’s part of sport at its purest in that it’s a bat­tle of one com­peti­tor against an­other.

At the very least, it’s a re­minder to spec­ta­tors who are de­mand­ing to be en­ter­tained, that these mo­ments also means a great deal to those in the arena.

Gaze showed gen­uine re­morse after his mid-race ges­ture.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from New Zealand

© PressReader. All rights reserved.