Sam Gaze has won his second Commonwealth Games gold medal – and had already decided what to dedicate it to.
Gaze led New Zealand 1-2 in the men’s cross-country mountain bike race at Cannock Chase Forest on Wednesday night (NZ time), with NZ team-mate Ben Oliver taking silver against a weakened field.
The two black-clad bikers led from the outset and had established a break on the field by the end of the first of eight laps, and rode in tandem with a comfortable advantage until Gaze broke away after the midway stage.
Oliver was fourth in the memorable 2018 event on the Gold Coast, while it was Gaze’s third Commonwealth Games gong after taking silver in 2014.
Gaze declared pre-race he would be competing for mental health awareness and would be donating his skin suit to the Sir John Kirwan Foundation.
The 26-year-old has had depression in recent years, partly sparked by his victory in the same event at the 2018 Commonwealth Games, when his gold medal triumph over team-mate Anton Cooper was highlighted by Gaze giving Cooper the finger as he rode past him heading into the last lap.
“Obviously the last four years have been a pretty turbulent one,” Gaze said soon after his victory.
“I’m very grateful for it, in hindsight – it’s made me who I am today and to come back this year has… I’d like to think, a version of myself I’m proud of.
Gaze had entered the pits to fix a puncture on his rear tire in 2018 and Cooper attacked immediately, but Gaze chased him down before accusing Cooper of bad sportsmanship soon after hopping off his bike.
Gaze later apologized for his response, was fined NZ$282 by cycling’s governing body and later said if he had his time again he would “completely change my post-race interview”.
While he didn’t blame people for being “upset and mad” after fiery post-race comments, he said it had also been a difficult period of his career.
“I didn’t uphold that responsibility [of representing his country] the best I could have. But of course, it has been hard; it is never nice to have death threats sent to you.”
Cooper, the 2014 champ, withdrew from this year’s race the previous day after contracting Covid-19.
Gaze’s career hit a major bump following a crash in a race in South Africa in April 2019, which also played a part in developing mental health issues.
“I suffered a pretty bad head injury on the first stage of the Cape Epic and there were a lot of things over the year before that which added to it including my disappointment at the Commonwealth Games and a few other things.” Gaze said.
The Tokoroa-born rider said he had double knee surgery after the first World Cup event of the year “and Covid before the last two – just all sorts of stuff this year.
“To come here, it’s really special. Going into the season I had big goals – today sort of makes it all worth it.”
Gaze said he had known Oliver since the runner-up was 14 and was hoping this result would help him receive a professional contract.
“He’s really up there in the world of mountain biking. It’s very special to share a podium with a team-mate, but also a very good guy.”
“He’s a hard man to follow,” Oliver said of the winner.
“I kept the same speed, Sam just got quicker. I fly under the radar in these things so just stoked to get on the podium.”