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.
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.