Chris Hoy: 'It is one thing to win gold...'

... but quite another to face the expectations and the fame that follow. As Scotland's Chris Hoy chases more glory in Melbourne this week, he talks to Mike Rowbottom
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The Independent Online

After this 29-year-old sport science graduate from Edinburgh successfully followed in the tyre tracks of England's Jason Queally, the surprise kilo winner at the Sydney Games, he enjoyed a hectic period of activity involving all the usual perks for athletes of his standing.

There was an MBE, and an honorary degree from Edinburgh University. He made numerous television and radio appearances including one on BBC Radio Scotland, where listeners were invited to ring in and guess the measurement around one of his mighty sprint cyclist thighs. (They are each 66cm in circumference, if you're bothered).

He raced BMW cars around a track, he became the proud owner of a Blue Peter gold badge. But Hoy failed to capitalise on what was, perhaps, his most exceptional opportunity.

While enjoying a cup of coffee with his girlfriend while they were spending the day in the Royal Box at Wimbledon, he was approached by a tall, distinguished Scot and an elegant woman - Mr and Mrs Sean Connery - who enquired if they might join them. Could there ever have been a more perfect moment for the words: "Not now Sean. Can't you see I'm busy?'' But no. Hoy did the polite thing...

Much as he enjoyed the social whirl, Hoy - who had watched three men establish world records in Athens before setting his own with the final ride - admitted that it had had a detrimental effect on his training for the following year. More importantly, he also struggled with the perennial problem of those who achieve success - namely, how to maintain it.

"It's not easy,'' he said. "It makes me even more full of admiration for athletes like Steve Redgrave, who kept going not just year after year but Games after Games. It's one thing being a champion, but staying at the top is a whole different ball game.''

Hoy eventually got back down to work, however, and although he is less than glowing in his praise of last year's performances, they could hardly have been that bad, as he regained the world title he had won in 2002. "It was still a reasonable year,'' he conceded.

What might constitute a better-than-reasonable year for him in 2006 would entail, initially, the kilo title he won four years ago in Manchester, when he beat Queally to become the first Scot to win a cycling gold. Next month he intends to retain his world title in Bordeaux in France.

After that he may have a look at the kilo world record now held by France's Arnaud Tournant, the Athens silver medallist, who recorded a time of 58.875sec at the track regarded as the fastest in the world, which is 3,000ft above sea level in Bolivia.

"The track is in a bit of a state,'' Hoy said. "But it is still the place you have to go to if you want the record. I'll see how the next couple of months go before I decide.''

In the longer term, Hoy plans to compete at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. To do so, however, he will have to make a radical alteration in his training as the International Olympic Committee has recently discontinued the kilo from its programme, citing the need to keep Olympic events at a manageable level.

Ironically, the newly introduced cycling events which have effectively forced the kilo out is BMX, at which Hoy once excelled - he finished 10th in the junior world championships as an 11-year-old.

"I was pretty devastated by the IOC decision,'' Hoy said. Rather than reverting to his boyhood activity, however, he plans to concentrate his attention on the Team Sprint event, in which he took silver at the 2000 Olympics the day after Queally's gold-medal ride in the opening event.

Hoy recognises that a victory for him on the first day could have a similarly galvanising effect upon his country's Commonwealth campaign. "I think it would be fantastic for the Scottish team if I could win on the first day. I remember when Jason won the gold in Sydney, the level of belief among the rest of the team suddenly rose.''

With Queally riding again, as well as Hoy's Scottish colleague Craig MacLean, the defending champion believes there is a good chance that Brits could occupy all three places on the podium. As Graham Taylor might put it, would the Aussies not like that...