Gentleman Hoy leads wolf pack
As deafening roars fill the Olympic velodrome on a dreary February day, Chris Hoy politely asks a huddle of reporters gathered around him to speak up a little bit.
The clamour only increases when fellow Briton Victoria Pendleton whizzes around the wooden oval and Hoy, perched on a warm-down bike to avoid getting cramp, apologetically excuses himself of his media duties for a moment.
“Come on Vicky,” the four-times Olympic gold medallist screams with all his might at the 2012 London Games test event and World Cup series.
Hoy was in outstanding form himself, not only on the track with two golds including a lung-bursting keirin victory in which he recorded his fastest ever speed of 78,1 kilometres per hour, but also off it.
“The answers are yes. No. No. Yes. And it was great,” the Scot, pretending to be disinterested, joked to reporters after claiming bronze in the team sprint.
If Hoy was disappointed at that result he did not show it, affording generous amounts of his time to talk through the race.
No wonder Hong Kong youngster Wai Sze Lee, who claimed a silver and a bronze at the same meeting, described her hero as “very gentleman” in halting English.
“I love Chris Hoy very much. No matter how far behind he gets he always catches the riders,” said Lee, whose detached demeanour changed suddenly when Hoy’s name was mentioned.
Lee could not be more accurate in her assessment.
The barrel-chested 36-year-old took his London form, which he labelled his “best since Beijing”, to the world championships in Melbourne in April where he won an 11th world title with a ”last-chance saloon” keirin burst.
Hoy went up the inside for the first time in his life to leave spectators and his coaches open-mouthed in amazement.
“100 metres out he was gone. But he was still standing and he took his chance,” head coach Shane Sutton told Reuters after Hoy’s audacious move.
Hoy is one of the most modest top athletes in world sport and would prefer not to be addressed as “Sir” as he is entitled to be after being knighted in 2009 for becoming the first Briton in 100 years to win three golds at a single Olympics the previous year.
A gentleman off the track, there are few more fierce competitors on it.
Hoy, who started out on a second-hand girl’s bike given to him by his neighbour but promptly broke it, is the figurehead of British cycling’s golden generation.
Started when Chris Boardman won the first gold medal by a Briton for 70 years at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, the baton passed to Hoy in the new millenium.
Sydney in 2000 was where Hoy first made his mark on the Olympics by winning team sprint silver before world championship success two years later and a first Olympic gold in 2004.
British cycling’s performance director Dave Brailsford said after the Beijing Olympics that Hoy, who trains between 25-35 hours a week, has been the ideal leader.
“When there’s a wobble in the team people stop and you can see all the people look at Chris. Then they look at what he does and they follow suit. It’s a bit like a wolf pack.
“When something spooks all the wolves, they turn and look at the leader and they all stop. And then he does something — and that’s Chris.”
Hoy says his phenomenal motivation to keep training as hard as he does at 36, considered old for track cyclists, is largely thanks to the moment when London won the Olympic Games.
“I was on the stage in Trafalgar Square in 2005 when the IOC (International Olympic Committee) announced that London had got the 2012 Games.
“Now that was seven years ago, when I was 29 and already veering towards middle age in track cycling terms. Anything could have happened since then, but on that day, on that stage, there was no doubt in my mind I’d be in London.”
A further career highlight for Hoy, provided his body can cope with the demands, will be the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Scotland where he hopes to scorch around the Glasgow velodrome that bears his name.
Until then the unassuming cycling supremo has rower Steve Redgrave’s personal haul of five golds and one bronze in his sights.
Surpass Redgrave and Hoy will become Britain’s most successful Olympian. Not that he would change one bit.
“Even if I won three golds in London, to take my tally up to seven, would that really diminish what he achieved? No, it would not. Steve is still a total hero of mine,” is Hoy’s typically modest and “very gentleman” take on things.