Rebecca Thomas on the cycling legend’s retirement, and why his illustrious sporting career is far from over…
National outpourings of disappointment followed the announcement of the six time Olympic gold medal winner, 2008 BBC Sports Personality of the Year and all round general cycling legend’s official retirement last Thursday.
After ending a career that spanned nineteen years and saw Hoy become the most decorated Olympian, the question is: has he made the right decision? It was undoubtedly a difficult one to make. The track cyclist, who was knighted in 2009, has developed an intensely close relationship with his bike, but also with a not unwelcome third party: the adoring public.
No doubt Hoy’s bike will express relief at being given a break. The public’s reaction has, however, been mixed. Many were disappointed that Hoy could not hold out until the Commonwealth Games in his home nation in 2014. However, when asked, Hoy maintained that: “Nothing would give me more pleasure than going to Glasgow, but I don’t want to be there for the numbers.”
He no longer feels that he is good enough, and has made the decision that many athletes fail to make: knowing when it is time to go. It was a concept Lance Armstrong never grasped, with his disastrous comeback in 2009 eventually leading to the complete destruction of his past, present and future careers. This is an extreme case, but the point stands that it is best to bow out when you are ahead.
But what does bowing out actually mean? Is this really the end for Sir Chris Hoy? It is unlikely. His fans will not let him off the hook so easily. He has become a figurehead for cycling, one of the main reasons behind the dramatic rise in the popularity of the bike. The number of weekly cyclists has rocketed to 2 million in England.
Teammates have described him as nothing short of a Saint. Tour de France star Mark Cavendish commented: “He is just a good guy. It is easy to see sportspeople with a ‘good guy’ image but it is not an image with him.”
And this is what makes Sir Chris Hoy such a valuable figure to Britain now, even if he’s locked his bike to the garden fence for a while. On and off the track he inspires. Young riders will look to his career and see it as an upward curve to Olympic glory on home turf. Those cycling to work every morning will peddle just that little bit faster as they remember his World Championship titles. Other successful cyclists like Victoria Pendelton and Jason Kenny have already spoken about how Hoy helped shape their careers. They are just the tip of the iceberg. He has inspired thousands more, and continues to do so.
His plate is far from empty; he is an ambassador for the 2014 Commonwealth Games and also part of the campaign to bring the 2018 Youth Olympics to Glasgow. Not confined only to cycling, he will also be connected to the Scottish Rugby Union, as well as working with UNICEF and the Scotland Association of Mental Health. He even has plans to follow in Chris Boardman’s footsteps and launch his own bicycle range.
When asked to comment on the rising success of cycling as a popular British sport, Hoy said: “It has gone from a minority sport to a major sport and to have been part of the journey is a massive honour.” Always one for modesty, Sir Chris Hoy would not have gone further, but it is safe to say that he was not merely a participant, but one of the creators of that incredible journey.