Sir Chris Hoy ends career by becoming Britain's greatest ever Olympian with gold in the keirin final

 

Stratford velodrome

What a great, great way to go: Sir Chris Hoy rounded off his Olympic career in better fashion, smashing ahead of the opposition in the men’s keirin for his sixth gold medal and in the process becoming his country’s greatest ever Olympian in the most triumphant of exits.

Ever since he took silver in the team sprint in Sydney 2000, Hoy been the dominating force in men’s sprinting  - Jason Kenny notwithstanding -  for over a decade. And tonight’s final chapter of the Hoy story could not have been more appropriate, with Hoy leaving Olympic racing with two gold medals from this Games alone. That the 36-year-old Scot should simultaneously provide Britain’s eighth cycling gold from London, drawing equal to the previously unprecedented all-time maximum of eight clinched in Beijing, made his final triumph - on home soil to boot - even more appropriate.

Hoy’s total of six golds and a silver places him ahead of all-time British great Sir Steve Redgrave, with five and a bronze, and the Scot is now also - in terms of medals won -  the 24th most successful Olympian in history. As if that was not impressive enough, his medals come from four different disciplines and over four different Games.

But as Hoy likes to say, you start each Games from zero, and although his track record is testimony to his exceptional athletic skills, his consistency and his tenacity, in that sense London 2012 was no different to any other.

The first, huge, sign of a return to form came in the men’s team sprint on Thursday, where he, Kenny and Philip Hindes smashed a World Record  - twice - en route to beating the French, just as they had done at Beijing four years before. Hoy said that night that he had ‘dug deeper than ever before’, but that did not prevent him from delivering a searing third lap en route to Britain’s first track gold of 2012.

Fast forward to yesterday [Tuesday] morning   - during which we snapped up four more golds for Great Britain on the track -  and Sir Chris returned to the fray. Any disappointment at not being able to perform in the individual sprint, where a change in IOC rules meant that he could not take part alongside Kenny, selected to take part instead of him, was put behind him as the Scot, fully rested from the team sprint effort, trounced his rivals in the keirin’s first round.

This first success was captured in his traditional style, burning to the front for the final lap and then winning by two clear lengths -  simultaneously a message to his rivals that his strength remained intact, a way of staying out of trouble in what is track racing’s most tumultuous event, and perhaps most important of all, an indicatino that the great man was going anything but quietly.

But if there was a difference, and a reminder that even sporting immortals like Hoy cannot continue for ever, it was that in previous years Hoy's advantage would have been even more emphatically made, in that he would tend to charge away with two laps remaining, not one. But given Hoy has taken four keirin golds in the last six World Championships, even with this slightest hint of wavering strength, it was clear that  Britain’s greatest ever Olympian still reigned supreme.

Round two was a similarly imperious affair, with Hoy winning by almost two bike lengths, but the final was as much won on Hoy digging as deep as he could into the pain barrier as it was on strength.

Hoy blasted to the front with a lap and three quarters to go, a trademark move that almost seemed conclusive enough to give him his second gold of London. But a blistering comeback by Maximilian Levy of Germany left the Scot almost trailing as they entered the final bend. It was only with a huge final lurch and near-desperate acceleration that must have left the tank totally on empty that Hoy managed, just, to stay upright and then go clear - this time for good. Levy took a well-deserved silver, New Zealand's Simon Van Velthoozen and Holland's Teun Mulder took a joint bronze.

The cheering echoed and re-echoed around the velodrome as Hoy punched the air in delight. Then ever the sportsman he exchanged brief handclenches of thanks with his rivals before slowing to a halt. Finally, swathed in a Union flag, Hoy pointed repeatedly at the cheering, roaring, crowd,  was carried shoulder-high around the velodrome edge by his team staff, and then waited, for one last time, for the national anthem to ring out in acknowledgement of his achievements.

Hoy can move on from Olympic cycling safe in the knowledge that Birtish track racing - which he has lived through from its most impoverished, minority sport days right through to its world domination - is in a far better place now than when he first came in. And in no small part, that is thanks to him, with tonight the best way of all to sign off.

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