Sir Chris Hoy: Pain spurs on man with the one-track mind

He has been around the block many times but triple gold medallist is already gearing up for London 2012. Alasdair Fotheringham speaks to... Sir Chris Hoy

If ever a top athlete was tempted to lose focus, becoming Britain's most successful Olympian for a century, Scotland's most successful Olympian ever and BBC Sports Personality of the Year, with a knighthood to boot, would sound like the ideal formula.

Not so, though, for Sir Chris Hoy.

"A lot of people ask me what the challenges are after everything I've won," the triple gold-medallist says as he nears completion of a training camp in Perth, Western Australia. "But I enjoy the problem-solving process that's behind it, what to do and how to structure it. It keeps me going."

Hoy's decision to go for a month-long training camp on the other side of the planet is, he concedes, an attempt to put distance between himself and Beijing. Or rather, what came after Beijing. "Perth's definitely a place where you can focus 100 per cent on training, because there's nothing but training and resting to do. It's very different from the UK, where there are always distractions.

"To be honest, life after the Olympics was a whole lot of fun but I missed the cycling. Starting here with three or four weeks' great training is ideal."

When he says "starting", he means getting ready for the 2012 Olympics. "The World Championships [in March] and other races are goals and it would be nice to be successful, but it's all about London from here on in. When I stepped up in Beijing not many people remembered the gold medals from the Worlds, and it'll be the same in 2012."

Four years after China, one thing will be different, though. Hoy will be 36, an age at which many cyclists are thinking about retirement. He admits age is a "factor", but says: "The biggest thing is my motivation, which is still in place. Stepping up day after day and coming back to those tasks with real enthusiasm. It's all about enjoyment and planning in as much detail as possible, every little area. Squeezing out that extra half per cent."

It turns out Hoy is using the fact that he is the "wrong side" of 30 as yet another motivator, one of hundreds you suspect he has rolling round his mind as he rolls round the velodrome for the umpteenth time. "There is less pressure because of what you've achieved, but you keep going because you know it's an opportunity you won't have again, these are the last few years you can do it. Look at [fellow team sprinter and gold medallist] Jamie Staff, he's 35 and still raisingthe bar to a whole new level."

Hoy doesn't really do role models, but he admits the athletes he most admires are those who have achieved success over a long period of time, such as Sir Steve Redgrave and Roger Federer – "The way Federer handles himself is amazing".

Hoy's fellow athletes in British cycling know the old cliché about him "living for the sport" has a deafening ring of truth. "Chris is full of surprises,"says Bradley Wiggins, a double gold medallist in the individual and team pursuit in Beijing, "but ultimately training hard is what he's driven by. He'll always go back to that and keep wanting to repeat that as long as he can. He'll slot back in like he always did, because he just loves it."

Wiggins was sitting on a deckchair in a car park in the middle of Doha, waiting for the start of the Tour of Qatar, but if the Londoner has opted to compete almost entirely on the road in 2009, he understands Hoy's insistence on sticking with the track. "That's why he took himself off to Australia," Wiggins says. "He's totally driven by what he does. He relishes it.

"He might not be on top form at the Worlds but come London he'll be the man to beat. Jason [Kenny, gold medallist] will be stomping but Chris will be setting out to do it all over again. The medals [he has already got] are immaterial. It's the same for me and London, you just want to feel that joy of standing on the podium again."

Wiggins also agrees with Hoy that there are no stars in the British team, just a lot of dedication. "A lot of the guys there are like it, Jason Kenny's incredibly mature and driven for his age, made a lot of sacrifices. Paul Manning, too. Look at [Olympic sprint gold medallist] Vicky Pendleton, she's never spent more than two weeks off the bike in her entire career. It's across the board."

So for all that the tiny sticker on his bike has now been changed from Chris Hoy to "Sir Chris Hoy", the man riding it has changed very little. After all, it should not be forgotten that Hoy was a gold medallist prior to Beijing, after taking the now-defunct kilo event in Athens. When it comes to getting back to basics, he has already been round the block more than once.

"You never get the chance to lose perspective with British cycling," he says. "You're not a star, you're one of a number of other athletes, all of whom are fighting to get the chance to be where you are now and knock you off your perch. The younger guys want to come through and beat you. You're not allowed to become complacent."

It is typical of how seriously Hoy takes those challenges when he says one of his current worries is qualifying for the team sprint at the World Championships. But given the way the British sprint trio – Hoy, Staff and Kenny – trounced the field in Beijing, surely there is no need for him to worry that he might not be picked?

"We have trials," he says, sounding genuinely worried. "Though I can't expect to be at the same level as I was at Beijing, the team sprint in Poland remains a specific target. The training's gone well, so well in fact there was only one day which didn't work out as expected. That's pretty amazing, considering I was getting steadily more and more tired."

If there is any chance of acquiring new techniques, Hoy is sure to find them. And fast. "He's a real quick learner," says Theo Bos, the Dutch former world sprint champion. "I remember when we were racing together in Japan in the keirins [the mass dash for the line which earned Hoy another gold in Beijing]. Once I told Chris that he kept too rigid a position in his upper arms and, after thanking me, he changed it in the next race, beating me. After that, I saidto myself I would never tell him anything he could benefit from!"

Hoy's ability to handle a steep learning curve is exemplified by his performances in the individual sprint. "When I started it, it wasn't something I took so seriously, it was more as a way of having a back-up event just in case there was a dead heat with somebody else in the trials.

"That way I'd be sure that I could get selected, it was an extra string to my bow. But in many ways it's been Jan [van Eijden] and Iain [Dyer, the team sprint coaches] who've broken it all down into very simple components and shown me what I can do with the individual sprint." The consequence: a gold medal in Beijing, and perhaps another in London.

"You work on your strengths and weaknesses, there are so many different issues, like the acceleration, where, for example, Jason [Kenny] is stronger than me. But my top-end speed is better than his, so that's a strength. It's a question of getting the balance exactly right."

Clearly a lot if not all of the components for success are already in place for Hoy, including that openness to new ideas, new disciplines. But one thing that Hoy will never escape and which could affect his focus in the latter part of his career is the sheer degree of pain and agony his body has to go through to race at such a high level.

Hoy's training can involve riding so hard that he sometimes finishes curled up in the foetal position. If you know that it is going to hurt that much, it must be tempting just to call it a day? "We don't do that training exercise too often, and events which I no longer do, like the kilo, were worse," Hoy says. "And track cycling – if you don't crash badly – is a low-risk injury sport. But as [the Great Britain coach] Shane Sutton says, 'we are in the business of pain'."

"I don't enjoy it but I know that I have got to live with [myself] if I'm not going to give it 100 per cent. The key thing is getting to the start line and knowing that I couldn't have done any more, that I didn't back off. You accept the pain, because if you didn't there would always be that element of doubt."

His desire to always try to find that extra "half per cent", the fact that he conquers any element of doubt, and his meticulous search for the tiniest details to improve: all these things sum up Hoy.

And they are perhaps what ultimately give him the edge, and what help him blaze a path from a lonely velodrome in Australia early in 2009 to the bright lights of London in 2012. To say that Hoy has a one-trackmind does his incredible dedication hardly any justice at all.

Life and times

Name: Sir Christopher Andrew Hoy.

Born: 23 March 1976, Edinburgh.

Nickname: The Real McHoy.

Height: 6ft 1in.

Weight: 14st 7lb.

fascinating facts: Inspired to cycle aged six by 1982 film 'ET: The Extra-Terrestrial'. Raced BMX from ages 7 to 14 and was ranked second in Britain. Rowed for Scottish juniors, finishing second in 1993 British Championship in coxless pairs. Also played rugby at school.

Personal life: Lives in Salford (close to a velodrome) with his girlfriend Sarra Kemp, a 28-year-old lawyer from Edinburgh.

Beijing: At last year's Olympics, Hoy became the first Briton to win three gold medals in a single Games since Henry Taylor in 1908.

Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol
art'Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' followed hoax reports artist had been arrested and unveiled
News
Pistorius leaves Pretoria High Court to be taken to prison
news

Voices
Stephanie first after her public appearance as a woman at Rad Fest 2014
voices

Life and Style
tech

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
James Blunt's debut album Back to Bedlam shot him to fame in 2004
music

Singer says the track was 'force-fed down people's throats'

News
news

Endangered species spotted in a creek in the Qinling mountains

Life and Style
tech

Company says data is only collected under 'temporary' identities that are discarded every 15 minutes

News
peopleJust weeks after he created dress for Alamuddin-Clooney wedding
Life and Style
A street vendor in Mexico City sells Dorilocos, which are topped with carrot, jimaca, cucumber, peanuts, pork rinds, spices and hot sauce
food + drink

Trend which requires crisps, a fork and a strong stomach is sweeping Mexico's streets

Arts and Entertainment
George Lucas poses with a group of Star Wars-inspired Disney characters at Disney's Hollywood Studios in 2010
films

George Lucas criticises the major Hollywood film studios

Sport
football West Brom vs Man Utd match report: Blind grabs point, but away form a problem for Van Gaal
Life and Style
health

Some experiencing postnatal depression don't realise there is a problem. What can be done?

Arts and Entertainment
Gotham is coming to UK shores this autumn
tvGotham, episode 2, review
News
i100
Sport
Adel Taraabt in action for QPR against West Ham earlier this month
footballQPR boss says midfielder is 'not fit to play football'
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album