Sir Chris Hoy wept as he accepted his sixth gold medal at London 2012 to become Britain’s most decorated Olympian – the pinnacle of his dazzling track cycling career thus far.
It was a rare display of emotion from the usually taciturn Scot whose entire professional ethos is based on control – but one that belied the years of dedication and perseverance leading to that tearful moment on the Velodrome podium.
Chris Hoy is a born athlete. In his teenage years he was a star rugby player at George Watson’s College in Edinburgh, his home city. Aged 14 he competed for both Scotland and Great Britain in BMX, becoming Scottish champion and UK number two. There was mountain biking too – and to cap it all off he won a British Championship silver medal rowing for Scotland in the coxless pairs.
But in 1992 the future Olympic star turned his attention squarely to land rather than water and focused on track cycling, first with the Dunedin club, then The City of Edinburgh Racing Squad, at the time the UK’s most successful cycling team.
Four years later he became part of the British national squad. Teammates from those days recall that Hoy didn’t initially show much promise – but such was his drive that within two years he had surpassed them to be their number one team sprinter.
A world championship medal came in 1999 with silver in the team sprint – the first of 11 honours, including an electrifying last-second keirin win at the velodrome in Melbourne just prior to the 2012 Games.
There was a first taste of Olympic success Sydney in 2000 thanks to a Team Sprint silver with Craig MacLean and Jason Queally, but Hoy would have to wait until Athens in 2004 to claim his first champion’s medal at a Games, in the Kilo – a 1km time trial.
When the event was dropped at Beijing four years later Hoy – ever versatile – simply focused on the sprint, match sprint and keirin, taking gold in all three and helping set a new world record in the team sprint.
Hoy’s incredible performance in China – the result of 35-hour training weeks, endless gym work and a strict diet regime – raised his profile overnight and he was knighted that year to become Sir Chris Hoy.
Playing down his honour with customary modesty and humour, he said at the time: “To become a knight from riding your bike, it’s mad. But it is genuinely just an amazing honour, and it’s great for the sport.”
By the time London 2012 rolled around Sir Chris – who had by now added an applied science university degree to his list of achievements, as well as becoming a trained barista – was so revered that he was chosen to lead out Team GB at the Olympic stadium Opening Ceremony. And when he hit the velodrome he didn’t disappoint.
Hoy, 36, took gold in the team sprint – with two world records along the way – and closed his Olympic career with gold in the keirin, overtaking his rowing idol Sir Steve Redgrave as Britain’s greatest Olympian.
Hoy’s career, which will conclude in two years’ time at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, is a textbook example of what hard work can achieve.
Of the near 60 professional keirin races he has entered he has crashed just once, finished second four times and won all of the others.
As he told the London evening Standard: “Having a plan A isn’t enough. You need a plan B, C and even D, and it's all about learning those plans, mastering them and being able to execute them.”