James Lawton: Finally it's enough. Sir Chris Hoy gives a parting gift to the nation
There was, at its dead centre, the man of great and classic calm
The man who it seemed would never be sated, for whom winning had become the most insistent need in his life, wrote his own eulogy in the moment of his greatest triumph here last night.
It was short and it was unadorned and it was worthy of a man from Edinburgh who had just won the medal which separated him from every other British Olympian.
"It's enough," said Sir Chris Hoy as he went off to collect his sixth gold, one more than his fellow knight, rower Steve Redgrave.
Aye, it was enough and suddenly the sense of it overcame him after still another superb finishing drive to the line, another flash of evidence that at 36 years this was a man committed utterly to the idea that when all of this was over he would not be diminished.
This time it was the German Maximilian Levy who couldn't live with the latest blast of Hoy's ambition. The winner wept as he held aloft the Union flag and wrestled with the emotions that always come in the wake of the most ferociously committed effort, the kind he has been producing at this ultimate level since the Athens Olympics eight years ago. He won one gold medal there, three in Beijing and now two in London.
When the action was over, when his feelings began to run, you were reminded of the quality that has most infused this making of a unique itinerary of success in British sport.
It is something that was once again the mark of Hoy as he prepared for the last great challenge of an extraordinary career. He was still and seemed almost to be breathing certainty as he sat for nearly an hour before his victory in the keirin event – the climax of the programme in a building in which Hoy's win completed near colonisation by the British cycling team with seven medals in 10 events.
Much of the time he sat with Victoria Pendleton as she prepared for her last chapter of another career of stunning accomplishment. It was to be one of searing disappointment as the 31-year-old star of the women's team was "relegated" after winning the first of the final races against her fierce Australian rival Anna Meares by the finest margin you could ever imagine.
The ruling was that she had crossed the sprinting line dividing the riders in the last flailing dash for the line, but if Queen Victoria wasn't amused, if she also surrendered to her emotions, she was gracious as she held aloft the Australian's arm.
Hoy had given Pendleton a pat of encouragement as she went to face the tough 28-year-old from a Queensland mining town – and he had risen to his feet when their brilliant 21-year-old team-mate Laura Trott had carried off the gold medal in the demanding omnium event. She did with a superb time trial performance which swept her American rival Sarah Hammer off the top spot.
That left this place where £65 face-value tickets had been drawing as much as £1,500 – where Sebastian Coe, who knows a little bit about the special tension of great sports events, and the American basketball megastar Kobe Bryant were repeatedly rising from their seats – in the greatest of turmoil.
There was, however, at its dead centre the man of great and classic calm. Hoy listened to his headphones for a while, then, barechested, did some gentle work on a stationary bike in the riders' compound.
When he walked into the action there wasn't a flicker of emotion show-
ing on his broad, open face. He waited for the moment he had to make his maximum impact, then unleashed all that extraordinary force which last week saw him lead the British sprint team to gold with two world records.
This is the strength and the genius of Hoy. It is the timing of a natural-born champion, a man who knows exactly when to apply the hardest of the pressure.
It has to be said that there is a whiff of the absurd about the keirin discipline. It was founded in Japan, largely out of a desire to create a pure betting race where the finest calculations could be made on a rider's strength and racing talent.
The leader, sedately riding his motorbike, takes the riders up through their gears until they come to the moment, with just a few of laps to go, when the most confident of the racers strike for home. Hoy is a master of such timing – he won at this in Beijing – and yesterday it was hard to imagine that anyone could stop his irresistible rise to his point of supreme distinction in British sport.
It was the beaten Levy who did best. He fought Hoy to the line and the margin at the finish was 0.065 – an absurd measure with which to decide if a man's career ends in glory or appalling anticlimax.
The latter fate, there had been an inexorable sense, was unlikely to blight the last Olympian ride of the man who was threatening to go beyond the historic achievement of the great rower Redgrave.
"It is hard to express my feelings now," said Hoy, "but I know it couldn't have ended better than this. I don't know this will be the last time I ride competitively but it is the end of my Olympic story, but I couldn't have wanted anything better today."
Around him there were scenes of emotion which have almost become a British possession at these 30th Olympics but at their heart there was a calmer sense of great achievement.
Some thought the rush to his knighthood was perhaps a little premature, that it was a populist gesture on the road to the British Olympics. But for some time now there has scarcely been a whisper of doubt and yesterday there was the greatest expression of a man who has established himself so strongly in the national consciousness.
It is maybe because he represents something that is as rare as it is brilliant in its power to make you believe in the possibilities of great action.
Redgrave had that when he went down to the water. Coe had it when he came to the track. The watching Coe, when he seized the possibilities of a winning move; and here in these Olympics so many have shown a capacity for such striking deeds.
The new cycling star Laura Trott showed yesterday a potential to deliver such winning brilliance down the years and last weekend we had the extraordinary force of Jessica Ennis and Mo Farah. It is, above all, the talent of the truest competitors to inflict themselves at the heart of the highest competition.
That is what put Sir Chris Hoy so firmly in the gaze of the nation yesterday and why his race became a ticket generating quite such scorching heat. The people wanted to see the great man produce once more the very best of his talent and the great strength of his urge to win.
He gave them everything they could've wanted and when it was over he was the only man inclined to say it was enough. For most everyone else, it really could have gone on for ever.
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