Taking back to back wins in the Oceania Continental Championships and the New Zealand National Championships last month was a great way for Anton Cooper to remind the cross country riding world that he is serious about pushing for Olympic Gold this year.
The twenty-five year old has had his sights set on the Olympics since he watched the Athens games back in 2004, and 2020 is shaping up to be the year he finally gets to live his dream.
“I’ve had some disappointments in the past, both in 2012 and 2016. In 2012 it wasn’t something I really expected, to be able to go to London, because I was 6 months too young to go. But it was put to me that if we got a dispensation, would I be keen to go, and of course I was. But that didn’t end up happening, we couldn’t get the dispensation so I missed out there.
“I think Rio was really the first time I expected to be going, but again it was almost a trip at the last hurdle. In 2015 I’d won the under 23 World Champs, I was having a good start to the season and I felt like training was going well, but it really went pear shaped and I suffered a lot of chronic fatigue and upper respiratory infections and ended up having surgery to fix some of those issues. So that really wiped out my chances of qualifying, and that was hugely disappointing. But there’s always another chance and 2020 is looking to be the one at the moment,” Cooper says.
After suffering a few knock-backs, it must be difficult to keep your eye on the prize and not to get distracted by the fear of further disappointment, but Cooper has learnt to use every experience – good or bad - to his advantage and it is that constant learning that will give him every chance of stepping up on the Olympic podium this year.
With six months to go until the Tokyo Olympics, training is ramping up in intensity for Cooper, but he says keeping the enjoyment in riding is vital to succeeding in competition.
“You don’t want to be feeling like you’re sick of riding, so you need to ride for fun and not take it too seriously all the time. It’s important to keep it varied. I do have to train quite a bit on the road bike as well and that’s something I don’t actually mind doing, but I definitely don’t enjoy 5 days a week on the road bike, so I try and get on the mountain bike as much as I can because that’s a real joy to me.
“We have so much variety and options here, not just in Christchurch and in the Park but also in Canterbury as a region. I think we’re really lucky for that, so training doesn’t really get old here.
“I still get that thrill everytime I jump on a mountain bike and come down the hills, I think ‘this is fun, and this is my job.’ There are certainly worse jobs out there.”
For someone with a natural competitive streak like Cooper, winning is part of the fun too, so there is no doubt that he will be going for Gold in Toyko this July.