Sir Chris Hoy is Britain’s greatest ever Olympian. He is a colossus. He has won a medal at every World Championships but one since 1999 (he missed 2009 because of injury).
He’s been honoured and presented with all manner of awards, accepting each one with a grace and humility that only increases his stature. And they named the new Glasgow velodrome after him. Mind you, it would have been odd had they done anything but.
Hoy was selected to carry the Great Britain team’s flag at the Olympic Games opening ceremony in London. Four years ago, in Beijing, the track sprinters watched the opening ceremony on television at their hotel and took great encouragement from the sight of some of their rivals in the Olympic stadium. They knew that spending hours travelling to and from the venue, spending so much time on their feet, was far from ideal so close to the team sprint.
But Hoy could not turn down such an honour. He minimised the impact the opening ceremony would have. When it came to race day, Hoy was clearly fresh, fit and in peak form. The team sprinters broke the world record and retained their Olympic title.
A year ago, though, things looked different. It was by no means a given that Hoy would be at his best for the Olympics. At the 2011 World Championships, he came away with three silver medals. The team sprint squad seemed to take a step back for every inch they crept forward. The search for the magical combination was proving elusive.
And, of course, Hoy was locked in that battle with Jason Kenny for the sprint place. It always seemed likely that Hoy would secure the keirin place – he’d won the world title in 2007, 2008, 2010 and was runner-up in 2011, making the Derny-paced event his own.
It seemed he had developed a tactic for every eventuality. He could lead from the front, power through from the back of the field and get himself out of trouble like Harry Houdini.
He won the World Cup keirin at the London velodrome in emphatic style, then added his fourth world title in Melbourne.
The sprint place eventually went to Kenny, which meant that Hoy was unable to defend all three of his Olympic titles.
Instead, he made do with two. Hoy, Kenny and Philip Hindes got the team sprint spot on, after a controversial false start, then Hoy motored through the keirin competition.
There was a moment, no more than a few seconds, when the gold medal looked in doubt. Germany’s Maximilian Levy mounted a serious challenge, taking the lead on the last lap, but Hoy had plenty to spare and he cruised through to win in style.
At 36, that victory marked the end of an incredible Olympic career. Will we see Hoy on the track again? It has begun to look as if he may resist the temptation to carry on until the Commonwealth Games in 2014. That would be the fairytale finish – a chance to win a gold medal in a velodrome that bears his name.
The fans would love to see him continue but Hoy is not the type to carry on unless he knows he can compete at the highest level.
Whatever happens in the next couple of years, Hoy has been the flag bearer for British cycling. He was there when the sport’s profile, particularly on the track, was tiny, when the BBC and other mainstream media struggled to explain the nuances of the racing to a baffled public.
Hoy has educated and thrilled a nation, and he deserves his place as one of British sport’s greats.
What he said after winning keirin gold in London
“I’m in shock. You try to compose yourself but it’s surreal. I wanted to win gold in front of my home crowd. I saw everyone stepping up to the plate and thankfully it worked out for me too.
“The keirin is a lottery and you can never take anything for granted. I can’t describe the feelings I have at the moment. It’s one of the greatest feelings I have ever had. This is enough for me – the perfect end to my Olympic career.”
Britain’s greatest Olympians
Sir Chris Hoy – six gold medals (2004-2012)
Sir Steve Redgrave (rowing) – five gold medals (1984-2000)
Bradley Wiggins – four gold medals (2000-2012)
Ben Ainslie (sailing) – four gold medals (1996-2012)
Matthew Pinsent (rowing) – four gold medals (1992-2004)
Hoy’s Olympic medals
Silver: team sprint with Craig MacLean and Jason Queally
Gold: kilometre time trial
Gold: team sprint with Jason Kenny and Jamie Staff
Gold: team sprint with Jason Kenny and Philip Hindes
British Riders of 2012
Number 1 – Bradley Wiggins
Number 2 – Laura Trott
Number 3 – Sir Chris Hoy
Numbers 6-4 – Jonathan Tiernan-Locke, Jason Kenny and Chris Froome
Numbers 10-7 – Sarah Storey, Ed Clancy, Mark Cavendish, Victoria Pendleton
Numbers 12-11 – Lizzie Armitstead and Geraint Thomas
Numbers 14-13 – Joanna Rowsell and Dani King
Numbers 16-15 – Philip Hindes and Elinor Barker
Numbers 18-17 – Steven Burke and Peter Kennaugh
Numbers 20-19 – David Millar and Lucy Garner
Numbers 22-12 – Steve Cummings and Ben Swift
Numbers 24-23 – Ian Stannard and Helen Wyman
Numbers 26-25 – Annie Last and Scott Thwaites
Numbers 28-27 – Mark Colbourne and Alex Dowsett
Numbers 32-29 – Sharon Laws, Liam Killeen, Neil Fachie, Rachel Atherton
Number 33 – David Stone
Number 34 – Emma Pooley
Numbers 36-35 – Nikki Harris and Russell Downing
Numbers 38-37 – Anthony Kappes and Andy Fenn
Numbers 40-39 – Josh Edmondson and Matt Bottrill
Numbers 42-41 – Luke Rowe and Michael Hutchinson
Numbers 44-43 – Sam Lowe and Jon Dibben
Numbers 46-45 – Rebecca James and Jessica Varnish
Numbers 50-47 – Alex Peters, Kristian House, Richard Handley and Wendy Houvenaghel