Sir Chris Hoy: Knight of the road's insatiable appetite
As befits the face of a breakfast cereal, the Olympic champion is hungry for more success and further golds in London
Sunday 06 September 2009
Having waited, in the chill grey of a Sunday morning in Glasgow when the persistence of the heavy rain feels like a form of rebuke, the movement seems involuntary. As Sir Chris Hoy carefully steers his bike forward to face a growing crowd, the gathering appears to fold in on itself. He fixes his features behind a smile as the people, all of them on bikes, nestle in, narrowing the space around him. It feels a strange sort of intimacy, this earnestness to be so near, something blunt and compelling, but the smile never drops from Hoy's face, holding fast and sure like a sentry.
Since winning three Olympic gold medals in Beijing last year, adding to the one he earned at the previous Games in Athens, his whole world has contracted. He was knighted, he was named BBC Sports Personality of the Year. He, in effect, surrendered something of himself, so that his time is in such demand that every moment is now planned and accounted for. At this Skyride event at Glasgow Green, one of a series of initiatives across several UK cities to promote cycling, Hoy is guided from one commitment to another by a small team of advisers, as carefully and insistently as if he is a precious thought none of them wish to forget.
There is something startling about Hoy climbing on to his bike, bending his broad torso and solid, assertive limbs over the thin metal frame. Momentarily, it seems as though the two could not possibly sustain each other, but it is a fluid movement, gentle, like a faint brush on the skin, and the fit between man and machine is natural, comforting even. As Hoy fulfils his duties, meeting, greeting, appearing, always on his bike, the smile remains in place, set but warm, generous. He has come to terms with what he has relinquished, but also, during the last year, how to protect what is left, to maintain the certainties of his life as an athlete, the reliance on the repetitiveness of training as a kind of reassurance.
"It's nice to be welcomed everywhere, seeing people who seem happy to see you," he says. "And it seems pathetic to say it, but it's draining shaking people's hands and saying hello to them. It's bizarre, when I'm used to doing physically demanding training, but sometimes I feel more exhausted after a day of doing media and meeting people, because it's manic. The real challenge is managing it, because if you're trying to win more gold medals, you need the same approach to your training."
This is the very heart of Hoy, the small centre of himself that cannot be closed upon: his competitiveness. He is 33. As well as his Olympic success he has won nine world championships and two Commonwealth Games gold medals; he is planning his wedding to Sarra (pictured right), a lawyer from his home city of Edinburgh; he possesses a body of achievement, both professional and personal, that could soothe even the fiercest spirit. But still there is a stirring, an impulse to keep pushing.
"There's nothing like that feeling of being in absolute peak physical condition at the right time on the global stage and achieving your goals," he says. "I know that I've only got a few more years of that to come. I enjoy training, the hard work, and I have more ambitions."
Dave Brailsford, the performance director of British Cycling, has such faith in him to suggest: "I'm not sure we've seen the best of Chris yet. If he gets it right, there's a lot more to come from him." Already an Olympian of over-arching reach, Hoy seeks more. This urge runs through his life like a thread, so that what defines him is not what he has done, but the compulsion to keep striving.
In person, Hoy is serious-minded, a sharpness to his gaze, but within the benevolent features of an ample face. His body is so square, so certain – his thighs are 27 inches in diameter – that a powerfulness seems to radiate from him, but by nature he is tender, with a soft roundness to his voice. At 13, he wrote in his diary of winning a gold medal one day and he used to deeply analyse races that he lost. To train, he would sprint cycle between two lampposts, until he could not continue. So perhaps it is inevitable that, with London 2012 in mind, Hoy still feels drawn to his incentive to succeed, finding in it a source of meaning.
"I couldn't do it just for the hell of it," he says. "I can improve my tactics, even physically I don't feel that I've reached my peak. A lot of cycling is about learning how to train, how to read the signals from your body. Even strength, more mature athletes tend to be stronger, they've got year after year after year of strength training."
So much has happened, some of it so unreal. A jumbo jet was named after him and he is now the face of a brand of breakfast cereal. He was injured, too, falling off his bike last February and damaging his hip so badly that he missed the world championships and only returned to racing last month. Still, though, the structure of his life begins with the two training sessions – one in the gym, one on the track – that take up most of each day.
"It may look as though I'm doing everything that comes my way, but I'm turning down a lot more," he insists. "It's been life-changing and I have to schedule time to see my family and friends, which is bizarre. I couldn't see myself doing Strictly Come Dancing or anything like that, because I feel that the more of that you do, the less you will be remembered for what you achieved in the first place." For Hoy, the most enduring worth is still found in redefining the best of yourself.
For more information on Skyride, visit www.goskyride.com
A hoy there
Name: Sir Christopher Andrew Hoy
Born: 23 March 1976, Edinburgh
Early life: Inspired to cycle after watching film 'ET', and started by racing BMX bikes.
Show us your medals: Nine World Championship golds (four 1km individual time trial, two team sprints, two keirins, one individual sprints), four Olympic golds and two Commonwealth Games golds.
Olympic hero: won gold at Athens in 2004 and in Beijing was the first Briton to win three golds at the same Games since 1908.
Honours: BBC Sport Personality of the Year in 2008 (the second cyclist to win it after Tommy Simpson in 1965). Awarded an MBE in 2005 and a knightood this year.
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