by Justin Davis
PARIS, July 12, 2008 (AFP) – If there is one Olympian the British delegation will look to for gold medal glory in Beijing, it is sure to be Scottish track cycling king Chris Hoy.
A total of 10 gold medals will be contested at the brand new Laoshan velodrome, and Hoy – a nine-time world champion – is aiming for three of the seven up for grabs in the men’s competition.
Since beginning his track career full-time in the wake of the construction of the Manchester velodrome in the mid-1990s, Hoy has become the shining jewel in a track squad which – thanks to a long-term plan for sporting excellence which is now being applied to other sports – is considered a world leader.
It is not without a sense of irony, however, that Hoy goes into his third Olympic campaign as arguably Britain’s best hope for multiple gold medals.
Hoy, the last Olympic kilometre champion, began his bike racing career on a BMX – an event which has now replaced the ‘kilo’, albeit in controversial fashion, on the Olympic programme.
When news of the decision filtered through in 2005, only a year after Hoy had produced one of the truly spectacular moments of the Athens Games by beating three Olympic records to claim gold, the Scot could not believe it.
“I felt as though my career had been cut in half. For a while I felt directionless,” said Hoy, who since then has reluctantly admitted it could be a blessing in disguise.
“It might turn out to be the best thing for my career,” he said, speaking after the Beijing leg of the track cycling World Cup in December 2007.
In the three years that have followed the International Cycling Union’s decision to kill the Olympic ‘kilo’, Hoy has characteristically embraced the chance to remain at the top of his sport.
In Beijing, he will start the keirin and blue riband event of the match sprint as the reigning world champion, and as the man to beat for the likes of flying Dutchman Theo Bos, France’s Kevin Sireau and reigning Olympic sprint and keirin champion Ryan Bayley of Australia.
Hoy will then join two other riders, from England’s Jamie Staff and Kenny Roberts and Scottish compatriot Ross Edgar, in a bid to challenge the French team’s virtual 10-year domination of the team sprint.
It is where he is likely he could meet old foe, and current friend, Arnaud Tournant – one of the many people in track to have recognised the talent of a rider who has consistently strived for perfection through thousands of hours of agonising training sessions.
As well as embracing the advantages of sports psychiatry, it has not been unknown for Hoy to spend two or three hours training on a road bike on Christmas day, “because maybe some of my rivals won’t be.”
It is that kind of commitment that has allowed the 32-year-old to switch his focus on two of the most difficult events in track – sprint and keirin.
It all seems a million miles away from the modest hopes of the aspiring BMXer who travelled around Scotland and the north of England in search of competition.
Hoy also considered rowing and rugby as career options, but even the inspiration of former Scotland professional Gavin Hastings – a former coach at Hoy’s high school – could not stop him drifting towards track.
Australia coach Martin Barras will be hoping his riders can throw a spanner into the British team’s hopes.
If they do, it will be partly down to Hoy.
“For a coach he’s a dream come true. He’s very easy to work with,” said the Canadian, who first began working with Britain to help their emerging sprint team several years ago.
“I show my riders a video of Chris because I want them to copy him.”