Two young New Zealand riders – Sam Gaze and Trent Jones – have been named to compete in mountain biking and BMX respectively at the Rio Olympic Games, the New Zealand Olympic Committee announced today.
Gaze, 20 from Cambridge and Jones, 21 from North Canterbury are both set to compete in their first Olympic Games.
Gaze, who rides for the Specialized Factory Racing team based in Europe, is the New Zealand Elite Mountain Bike Cross-Country Champion and currently leads the UCI World Cup Under-23 standings after two wins and a third in the opening three rounds in Australia, Germany and France.
He won a silver medal in a 1-2 finish with Anton Cooper at the 2014 Commonwealth Games and is the youngest rider to win an Elite Eliminator title at a World Cup.
“This has been a dream of mine. I remember watching the London Olympic mountain bike and four years later I will be part of it. I am so honoured to represent my country and motivated now to do my best for my family, for everyone who has helped me, for Cycling New Zealand and for my sport,” said Gaze.
Cycling New Zealand High Performance Director, Mark Elliott said: “Sam has developed well over the last 18 months with his professional team. He is strong and has exceptional speed and when on his game, can match the speed of some of the best elite riders.
“He has had some experience in a Games environment at Glasgow and I am sure he will perform at an exceptional level in Rio. While the field will include the best elite riders, it will also be considerably smaller than the fields in World Cup competitions which should give opportunities for Sam to show his strengths.”
New Zealand earned one spot each for men and women for mountain biking at the Rio Olympic Games via the Oceania Continental slot, which rolled down after the respective 2015 winners from Australia both qualified through the nation rankings.
There was considerable interest in the men’s selection between Gaze and Cooper, the current under-23 world champion, who was not considered for selection on medical grounds, after illness derailed his recent World Cup competitions.
With Olympic selection criteria requiring riders to show top eight potential, no female New Zealand mountain bike rider was considered for nomination by Cycling New Zealand.
Elliott said that the future for cross-country mountain bike in New Zealand is exciting with Cooper, once recovered from his long-term illness, and Gaze both with the potential for two more Olympic cycles ahead of them. There have also been strong performances by a select group of young riders such as North Canterbury’s Ben Oliver.
New Zealand Olympic Committee CEO Kereyn Smith said the selection of an athlete in both BMX and mountain bike adds another exciting element to the overall New Zealand team.
“Both Sam and Trent have been performing well in recent events and with the level of competition sure to step up in Rio, we wish both athletes all the best in the final month and a half of preparation.
“In Sam’s case, mountain bike was first included onto the Olympic programme at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games, so to have an athlete racing 10 years on in Rio is a great milestone for the sport here in New Zealand,” said Smith.
Trent Jones has taken over as the country’s leading male BMX rider since the retirement of Beijing and London Olympian Marc Willers.
The 21-year-old has moved rapidly up the world rankings since a move to the hotbed of the sport in the United States 18 months ago.
He won his first national title at 11 years and was a semi-finalist at the UCI World Championships in 2013 and 2015. Jones, the current New Zealand Champion, took out the Oceania Championship title over multi-world champion Sam Willoughby of Australia in January and with strong international performances, rose to ninth in the world.
Injury meant he was unable to compete in the recent world championship but has returned to full training.
“I am honoured to be selected to the New Zealand Olympic Team and I’m excited to showcase the sport of BMX to New Zealand and the rest of the world,” Jones said.
Elliott said Jones is the face of the sport going forward with consistently strong performances.
“He is a young guy who has worked hard to develop on the international stage both on and off the bike,” Elliott said. “He has moved forward in the world rankings and close to a breakthrough to the top of the sport, which we hope he can achieve in Rio.”
Smith noted BMX’s status as the newest of the Olympic cycling disciplines, with BMX debuting at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, and wished Trent all the very best in the lead up to competition.
“With the men’s BMX event due to commence on the 17th August in Rio, we’re sure that the efforts of New Zealand athletes earlier, as well as the support of New Zealand sports fans back home, will spur on all of our kiwi athlete’s taking to the start line at the tail end of the Olympic programme.”
The selection of these two riders brings the total New Zealand team size to 103 athletes selected.
However, with 56 days to go until the opening ceremony, there remains a number of selection announcements to come, including both men’s and women’s sevens teams, the women’s football and hockey teams, athletes across the sports of weightlifting and golf, as well as further additions to the cycling team.