Is Olympian Sir Chris Hoy the perfect role model?
It’s the toughest decision any sportsman has to make, but decorated Olympian Sir Chris Hoy announced his retirement with the preordained grace and dignity we’ve come to expect from the Scot.
With the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow on the horizon, the opportunity to compete in his homeland on the Ralph Schuermann designed Velodrome - named in his honour - would surely have proved a persuasive factor in prolonging his career.
But unlike many others on the world stage, who refuse to undergo the transition from athlete to uncompetitive bystander, the 37-year-old found the unfathomable strength to pull the plug on a province brimming with remarkable achievement.
It’s an unenviable task, especially when you consider that six Olympic gold medals and 11 world championships provided the make-up of his identity. In fact the extraordinarily straightforward manner of his retirement mimicked the distinguished yet unvarnished character of his success.
Hoy was exceptionally inspirational, a phenomenal individual whose application and professionalism helped propel cycling in to the mainstream. He adopted an almost ambassadorial role in the sport, helping British Cycling become dominant globally after it’s earlier, tentative, penurious beginnings.
The Edinburgh-born rider, supposedly influenced by scenes from the 1982 film ET, started out in BMX racing where he climbed to number two in the British rankings as well as fifth in Europe and ninth in the world. As he progressed Hoy’s focus switched from the more quantifiable track endurance events to shorter, sharper contests and in 1999 earned his first medal with silver in the UCI Track Cycling World Championships in the team sprint alongside Craig MacLean and Jason Queally.
The team’s first World Title - and more significantly Hoy’s maiden gold - came in 2002, in the Ballerup Velodrome, Copenhagen. Hoy also won the Kilo title the same year beating Arnaud Tournant by 0.001 seconds, optimising British Cycling’s mantra of pushing harder to exploit margins.
And it was that philosophy that saw Hoy mature as an athlete. After dominating the time trial discipline with that gold at Athens he defied physiology to master the keirin and individual sprint once the International Cycling Union ditched the Kilo from the Olympic programme. That signalled Hoy’s evolution, growing from a power sprinter to a more tactically-minded rider.
Dave Brailsford’s introduction, replacing the revolutionary Peter Keen, coincided with financial backing from UK Sport as Hoy became the beneficiary of an enriched, superior environment to further embellish his arsenal.
That innovation ultimately engineered Hoy’s historic success in Beijing as he became the first Briton to win three gold medals in a single Olympic Games since Henry Taylor in 1908.
Hoy’s persona and demeanour was hugely unpretentious, he craved anonymity and looked to dispel a celebrity status, but his talent would antagonise that. His exploits were simply incredible, his approach committed, dedicated and intense. For somebody who has achieved so much within the sport and acted as an instrumental driving force, Hoy has remained impeccably authentic and behaved with sheer equanimity.
The temptation, with his native Scotland on the agenda in 2014, would have been to continue but the exhaustion stemming from the time, effort and energy installed in becoming Britain’s greatest ever Olympian is unimaginable.
The sensible option was to bow out on a high, rather than let his career fizzle out. I doubt a more fitting culmination would arise than the two gold medals he collected at London’s memorable Games in the Stratford Velodrome. Hoy, a deserved MBE, is truly an exemplary, understated representative of world sport and a perfect role model for aspiring athletes.