The greatest Olympic performance by a British team for 100 years ended in remarkable fashion here yesterday. While Chris Hoy became the first Briton for a century to win three gold medals at a single Games and Victoria Pendleton made up for her Athens disappointment of four years ago to take the women's sprint title, the only member of the 14-strong squad to leave the Laoshan velodrome without a medal was Mark Cavendish, who last month became the first Briton to win four stages in a Tour de France.
Ten gold medals were awarded over the five days of competition on the track and Britons won seven of them, plus three silvers and two bronzes. With Nicole Cooke and Emma Pooley winning gold and silver respectively on the roads and Shanaze Reade favourite for BMX gold tomorrow, British cyclists have been at the forefront of what is set to be the country's greatest haul of medals since the London Olympics of 1908.
Those Games were also the last occasion on which a Briton – swimmer Henry Taylor – won three golds at a single Olympics. Both Hoy and Bradley Wiggins began yesterday's programme with a chance of emulating that record, but Wiggins, feeling the effects of his previous efforts, and Cavendish were never in contention in the madison, finishing ninth.
Hoy, in contrast, has looked unbeatable from the time he led Britain's sprint team to a world record and gold medal on the first day of competition. He went on to take gold in the keirin and secured his historic third by beating his compatriot Jason Kenny. It has been an astounding performance by the 32-year-old Scot, especially given the fact that he had to restructure his career after the one-kilometre time trial, in which he won gold in Athens, was dropped from the Olympic programme.
"It's the most unbelievable feeling," Hoy said after struggling to control his emotions during the medal ceremony. "You cross the line and all the pressure and expectation evaporates and it's like nothing else you've ever felt. Until that point you've only been thinking about the process and the performance, breaking it down to the technical elements. That's why the emotions come out at the end. It just erupts out of you."
After the final Hoy rode over to the top bank of the velodrome to celebrate with his parents. "For them to be able to share the moment it couldn't be any better," he said. "Through thick and thin they've been there supporting me. From BMX racing, rugby, rowing and all the different sports they've been there on the sidelines cheering me on. It's pretty cool to be able to go up at the end of the race and just give them a big hug."
Hoy had to race 18 times in five days here and his greatest challenge came from fellow Briton, Kenny. Hoy had won his semi-final against France's Mickael Bourgain with almost embarrassing ease, but both races in the final were close, the Scot's scorching speed seeing him home in the finishing straight. "If I had made any mistakes tonight I would have got beaten with this standard of competition, particularly from Jason," Hoy said. "He's such a talented kid, so skilful, so fast for 20 years of age. He's also got it up top as well. Mentally he's very sharp, keeps it cool. He dealt with these Games like a veteran, so he's definitely one you can rely on for the future. I hope I can hang on to him until London. He's on his way up, that's for sure. I've been training with him all year and I could see him coming through, I half-thought I might meet him in the final here."
Hoy said he had been unaware of the possibility of equalling Taylor's record. "I was just trying to keep up with Bradley and the rest of the team," he said. "You've got to win more than one gold medal to get a look-in nowadays. Winning three golds feels pretty special. It's just bizarre because multiple gold medals are for people like Steve Redgrave or Matt Pinsent or Michael Phelps. You just don't think of yourself in the same company as them. I haven't achieved what they've achieved."
Hoy had only one concern as he left the arena. "Our massage therapist, Luc De Wilde, is Belgian so he got some Belgian beer and put it into my recovery drinks bottle," Hoy said. "So the first drink I had wasn't a protein drink, it was something else. I have to be careful because I still have to do doping control. The last time I had alcohol was the last night of the world championships in March."
Life and loves of triple gold winner
Born: 23 March, 1976, Edinburgh
Height: 6ft 1in
Weight: 14st 5lb
Thigh circumference: 27in
Thigh width: 9in
Music: Chemical Brothers, Public Enemy, Prodigy and The Foo Fighters are top of the play list on Chris Hoy's iPod.
Diet: Red meat, chicken, fish, pasta, rice and vegetables. As a treat, chocolate or chips.
Training regime: Six hours a day, six days a week. A typical day starts in the gym where he focuses on leg power, dead lifting weights up to 220kg. He follows this with track cycling, finishing with a road ride.
Cycling inspiration: Hoy was enchanted by scenes of ET riding in a BMX in the 1982 film and pestered his dad to take him to the local track.
First bike: A BMX brought by his mum from a jumble sale.
Other sports: First two-wheel success was in BMX racing. He was Scottish Champion, British No 2, European No 5 and World No 9 by 14.
He rowed for Scotland and won a British Championship silver in the junior coxless pairs.
Voted 1996 Sportsman of the Year while at the University of St Andrews for his contributions to cycling, rowing and rugby.
Women's Road Race: Nicole Cooke
Men's Keirin: Chris Hoy
Men's Team Sprint: Hoy, Jason Kenny, Jamie Staff
Men's Individual Pursuit: Bradley Wiggins
Women's Individual Pursuit: Rebecca Romero
Men's Team Pursuit: Ed Clancy, Paul Manning, Geraint Thomas, Wiggins
Men's Individual Sprint: Hoy
Women's Individual Sprint: Victoria Pendleton