Birmingham Commonwealth Games: Mountain bike star Anton Cooper out of cross-country event with COVID-19

Kiwi mountain bike star Anton Cooper has had to withdraw from the Commonwealth Games cross-country event, after returning a positive COVID-19 test on the eve of his event.

Cooper, 27, was a raging medal favourite at Birmingham, after winning gold at Glasgow 2014 and battling teammate Sam Gaze for victory at Gold Coast four years ago, before settling for silver.

"I'm absolutely gutted," said Cooper. "To miss out like this is really disappointing.

"While I'm feeling a bit under the weather, my symptoms are pretty mild overall, but I just don't think it's going to be good for me to race. I've taken so much care not to get COVID for several months, so this is disappointing, when it means missing out on representing my country."

After his sixth placing at the Tokyo Olympics, Cooper has shown good form on the UCI World Cup circuit and is New Zealand's highest ranked rider. He injured a wrist in his last raced before heading to Birmingham, but was recovering and hopeful of another strong Games placing.

"I absolutely feel for Anton," said NZ chef de mission Nigel Avery. "He's a fantastic cyclist and to have to rule himself out like this is a gutting.

"We commend him for his vigilance and thank him for taking immediate steps to isolate, even before he tested positive. I've been in touch with him and he's starting to feel a bit better, which is good news.

Sam Gaze heads Anton Cooper home for gold at Gold Coast 2018
Sam Gaze heads Anton Cooper home for gold at Gold Coast 2018. Photo credit: Photosport

"He's being well supported by the New Zealand team doctors and health team, and I know all of us in the New Zealand team are thinking of him."

COVID-19 has already deprived two Kiwi athletes of their Games experience, with basketballer Nikau McCullough failing a pre-departure test in New Zealand and triathlete Ainsley Thorpe testing positive at her Spanish training camp.

Another unnamed athlete was isolated after returning a positive test on arrival, but has since returned to the village.

Gaze has returned to Birmingham to defend his mountain title, after finishing second to Cooper at Glasgow.