The only thing worse than a sore loser: a bad winner

Opinion – Imagine winning a gold medal, but all everyone remembers is you being a petulant jerk after.

New Zealand‘s Samuel Gaze gestures in the transition area after suffering a puncture. Photo: Photosport

It‘s been quite a week for New Zealand sportspeople giving post match interviews. First, we had after yet another Silver Ferns‘ loss, then mountainbiker Sam Gaze‘s brazen backlash to one of his own teammates.

Sure makes for a different scene to the usual post-rugby interviews, doesn‘t it? But while Grant‘s emotional outpouring drew sympathy from people who both agreed and disagreed with the questioning that drew her to tears, it‘s all been one way traffic in the other direction in response to Gaze.

Gaze found himself with a puncture going into the last lap of the men‘s mountain bike race. Fellow Kiwi Anton Cooper then passed Gaze to take first place, which Gaze strangely thought is something you‘re not supposed to do to a guy leading a mountain bike race.

This made Gaze flip the bird at his team mate, make another disrespectful gesture as he crossed the line, and then trash Cooper in the post match press gathering. All of which could be put down to an emotional outburst at failing on one of the biggest stages of all, except for one key issue:

In fact, his comeback to take gold should be being heralded up there as one of the moments of the entire Commonwealth Games, never mind that he‘s a Kiwi. Instead, all anyone is talking about today is what a prat he made himself look like when he did take gold.

Sam Gaze (left) was not impressed when fellow Kiwi Anton Cooper passed him during the last lap of the men‘s mountain bike race after he got a puncture – despite the fact he got a gold Photo: Andrew Cornaga / Photosport

For the record, the confusing notion of waiting for a race leader that has suffered some sort of misfortune is actually embedded in cycle race culture. In fact, if you watch the Tour de France, it won‘t take too long before you‘ll see the delightful sight of the entire peloton stopping en masse to relieve themselves on the side of the road because the leader decides they want to pee.

So, if he‘s lost, there would be some sort of logic to him slagging off Cooper in the wash up. But, in the biggest example of a lack of self-awareness since Mike Hosking claimed that car crashes are caused by bad drivers, Gaze said this:

“There is good sportsmanship and there‘s not, and I feel like that wasn‘t there today. It‘s a bit of a shame really … that‘s racing, you can‘t get along with everyone … the good guys always win.”

All this while Cooper was standing just metres away. The whole thing is baffling considering waiting around for the leader isn‘t even really a part of mountain bike racing, only multi-stage road races – which may as well be a completely different sport.

Even if Cooper was in the wrong, it shouldn‘t have mattered. Gaze was in a prime position to be the bigger man, enjoy the moment of a gold medal and leave the anger at the perceived etiquette slight for a private word behind closed doors.

You know, like that time Richie McCaw got eye-gouged in the World Cup final that the All Blacks won. Or the time Valerie Adams got ripped off by a massive drug cheat at the Olympics. Or when Greg Dyer ‘caught‘ an edge from Andrew Jones in 1987. Or … well, you get the picture.

Gaze‘s self awareness did eventually show up, and he to social media. But you very much get the feeling that the damage had been done in the court of public opinion. He now joins fellow Jason Christie in the 2018 NZ cycling hall of shame, with the latter celebrating his national road championship win by pulling the fingers at the chasing pack (then unbelievably claiming that each finger was to celebrate his two national titles).

Of course, there is one respite for Gaze when it comes to his public‘s perception of his jerkish reputation: People love a good winner, and the opposite of love isn‘t hate. It‘s ambivalence.

And, because of that, there‘s a very good chance not that many New Zealanders will bother to remember who Sam Gaze is after these Commonwealth Games are over.

NOTE: This has been edited, after some helpful cycling folks have clarified that waiting for a leader who has suffered a gear malfunction is definitely NOT part of mountain bike racing.

*Jamie Wall grew up in Wellington and enjoyed a stunningly mediocre rugby career in which the single highlight was a seat on the bench for his club‘s premier side. He‘s enjoyed far more success spouting his viewpoints on the game, and other topics, to anyone who‘ll care to listen.