Sir Chris Hoy will always be remembered as one of track cyclingâ€™s most explosive athletes, and not only when he was on the track: Londonâ€™s Olympic stadium literally exploded on July 25th when this athlete, who a few days later was to become the most successful British Olympian ever, entered the stadium. The occasion was the London 2012 opening ceremony and Hoy was bearing the British flag, watched by 62,000 supporters, with a billion television viewers witnessing the spectacle from a distance. It is impossible to calculate how much this track cyclist, who announced his retirement on Friday at the age of 37, has contributed to cycling.
The darling of the crowds and a familiar figure on advertising boards, Hoy celebrated his Olympic medals on August 8th on the stage in Hyde Park, once again provoking near hysteria among the 40,000 people present who gave him rock star status. A great many would have liked to see him back in the saddle, but his amazing list of achievements will finally remain at seven Olympic medals (of which six gold) and 11 titles of UCI World Champion.
"There comes a time when your body just saysâ€™ enoughâ€™,â€ť he explained. So Hoy will not compete at the 2014 Commonwealth Games, which will take place in the velodrome bearing his name in Glasgow, the city where it all started. As a child, he tried rugby and rowing then threw his brute force and nerves of steel into BMX after becoming spellbound by a bicycle chase in the Steven Speilberg film ET. In his own way, he also became a creature from another planet, one of talent and modesty.
The new British school
At 18 years of age he discovered the velodrome and has never looked back. His first silver medal came in the team sprint at the 1999 UCI World Championships, his first gold medal in 2002. Between times he won silver at the 2000 Sydney Games, again in the team sprint. At the next Games, Athens 2004, he got gold in the kilometre, followed by three titles in 2008 in Beijing (a first for a British athlete in 100 years) in the keirin, individual sprint and team sprint. And to top it off, last year in London he took the honours in the team sprint and the keirin.
His career has marked the renaissance of British track cycling, which began in 1997 after a disastrous Atlanta Games the year before. The riders had to tinker with their own bikes and had to ride between showers on the open-air track in Meadowbank, Edinburgh. Grants from the National Lottery fund followed, as well as the professionalization of the athletes and their staff, research for cutting edge training methods and the British school became a winning machine.
Hoy now passes the torch to the next generation, which we already saw in action in London: â€śIâ€™ve had my time in the sun and itâ€™s time to let the other athletes have their share,â€ť comments the legend. In London, he already had to give up his place in the individual sprint to Jason Kenny, 12 years his younger. Hoy was devastated by the news but bowed out in silence and encouraged his young compatriot.
An inspiration and an outstanding role model
Hoyâ€™s reputation has been built up not only from his cycling career but also his elegance. He is a model of sportsmanship. Team spirit, respect for his opponents, respect of his environment, self respectâ€¦. the tributes that flow in today, from the sporting and political world, emphasise Hoyâ€™s example to society. As for the glory, he has had his share but has never revelled in it.
If he hadnâ€™t weighed 92 kilos, Hoy might have embarked on a road cycling career. He has been known to swap his track bike for a road bike: in 2006 he joined the masses in a cycle-sport event which saw him climb the Izoard, the Lautaret and the Alpe dâ€™Huez.
Pat McQuaid, UCI President, also acknowledges this cycling giant : "Your decision to retire from cycling while still at the very top of your sport must not have been easy, but it is one I can understand as you have always endeavoured to compete at the peak of your abilities. (...) I would like to pay personal tribute to your dedication and professionalism and the hugely positive influence you have had on cycling. You are an inspiration and an outstanding role model encouraging younger athletes who are striving to obtain their own personal goals".