THE setting was a suite high up in rugby’s Murrayfield Stadium, not the velodrome or the gym, far away from the crowds that cheered him to win after impressive win, just a plain white room with a blue carpet and one sporting giant with an emotion-laden announcement to make.
Britain’s greatest Olympian sipped nervously from a glass of water as stoney faced as he could possibly be while a film of his proudest moments – the glittering medals, the stunning victories and the celebrated awards – flickered on a television screen beside him.
Suggestions that cycling hero Sir Chris Hoy, who took his first shaky ride on a bike outside the family home in nearby Roseburn, was here to confirm his retirement from international competition had been the subject of speculation for days.
Nevertheless, the words when they finally came just after noon yesterday were dramatic and drenched in emotion, a sad, gloomy yet realistic acceptance that now, not next year at the Commonwealth Games as everyone had hoped, but right now is the best time to go.
Sir Chris, 37 last month, whose emotions famously flowed last year as he stood on the podium, a sixth record-breaking Olympic gold medal around his neck, this time kept his feelings in check. Just.
And as stirring music from the short film of a truly magnificent career faded, he held a microphone to his lips to deliver a speech from the heart, honouring the role that his proud family, dedicated coaches and loyal fans have played in one of the most inspiring sporting lives Scotland has ever produced.
“It’s not a decision I have taken lightly or come to easily, but I know it’s the right time,” he said softly before shakily confirming what we knew, his retirement from competition with immediate effect.
Perhaps not a huge surprise, but a blow nonetheless to Scots sports fans’ dreams that they might be a part of the Chris Hoy story next year, there to give what seemed the final race of his career a national send-off like no other.
But while he gravely conceded nothing would have given him more pleasure than to continue for another year, to power across the finishing line in first place in the brand new velodrome that bears his name wearing Scottish colours at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games, real life had other plans.
The reality of the gruelling training, the aching limbs and screaming muscles, precious time away from family and the chance that he might not actually be able to give it his all next time around turned out to be a tougher opponent than any he’s faced in any velodrome.
“I don’t want to be there to make up the numbers,” he admitted. “I realised I got every last drop out in London. People don’t realise how much that took out of me, to try to go on for another year is too much. It’s one year too far.
“It’s better to stand aside and let a younger rider come through, give him a chance to experience what it is like to have a home crowd cheer you on.”
Gnawing away, too, was the grief of suddenly losing his uncle, Derek Hoy, last November aged just 58, the result of a brain tumour. His death was clearly a heartbreaking loss that has led the elite sportsman to reassess what is really important in life. “It hit the family really hard,” he said quietly.
“It gives you perspective when things like that happen. You realise riding bikes in circles is great but not life or death. Sport is sport but ultimately it’s enjoyable and fun.”
He’ll miss the team and the banter, but not the way he feels in the morning after a tough gym session and the 48 hours beyond, during which he’d barely be able to move and yet still had to go to train.
“But you keep going because you know it’s not about that, it’s about that one day in front of thousands of people to win your medal. That’s what a gold medal is, it’s the thousands of hours that no-one sees,” he said.
“I didn’t enjoy a moment of the suffering, but I enjoyed feeling that I had taken a step towards the next goal.”
Over recent months, however, it became clear he’d had enough. No “eureka” moment, just a gradual realisation that evolved into emotional discussions with wife Sarra – who joined him yesterday – parents David and Carol and sister Carrie that it was time to pack away the “Chris Hoy, the Real McHoy” banner for the last time. What might become of that now, he was asked. “I’ll get Sarra to follow me around the house with it,” and the famous Chris Hoy smile was back.
There would be other things to occupy him, he added, and definitely not reality shows such as Strictly Come Dancing or I’m a Celebrity that many sports heroes eagerly embrace. “First I want to step back and let it sink in,” he said.
He’ll still be involved off the track and behind the scenes at next year’s Commonwealth Games – he is an ambassador working for Glasgow’s bid to host the World Youth Games in 2018 – and has charity roles with Unicef and the Scottish Association for Mental Health. There’s a range of cycles to be launched bearing his name – he likens their development to being a kid again, tinkering with his bike, removing bits and adding extras.
He fancies some mountain biking, some road cycling, pottering on wheels alongside Sarra rather than screaming around a sloping velodrome. “Going out and enjoying it, fighting the beer belly.”
Talk of coaching is too premature, but there will be a role for him in giving his continual support to cycling, making it safer, nurturing future generations and ensuring the city he calls home retains a quality velodrome for the next generation of Sir Chris Hoys.
For the irony of the Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome in Glasgow being a beacon for track cycling in Scotland while Meadowbank, where he took his first runs towards becoming an Olympic legend, rots does not escape him.
“Whilst it’s amazing to have this multi-million-pound facility in Glasgow, you don’t want to forget Meadowbank. I’d not be here without that facility,” he pointed out. “It’s not like we are asking for a similar facility to Glasgow here in Edinburgh, but somewhere to train the elite riders which the school groups can come and use, a roof over a tin shed – that’s all they need.
“All the potential athletes’ parents are not going to make an hour journey to go to the velodrome [in Glasgow] two or three times a week on the off chance their son or daughter will enjoy it.
“Elite athletes will travel, but to make it attractive to potential cyclists . . . well, it’s not rocket science. Fingers crossed Edinburgh will continue to work on it.”
And finally, with an awkward wave, Sir Chris Hoy, whose ability to fly around a velodrome track faster than any man on Earth excited and enthralled people who had never before thought of sitting down to watch a cycle race, got ready to begin another chapter in a remarkable life, with praise for his achievements flooding in from all around.
From Lord Provost Donald Wilson, a tribute that perhaps sums up how many of his fellow citizens feel towards their favourite sporting son. “Sir Chris has been an outstanding ambassador for Edinburgh and an inspirational role model for our city’s young people,” he said. “He has proved beyond any doubt that hard work, dedication and sheer determination can help turn natural talent into world-beating success.
“Sporting and other celebrities have much to learn from Sir Chris and the way he has handled his success over the years.”
‘Name is etched into Edinburgh folklore’
By Evening News cycling correspondent COLIN RENTON
HE was already a World, Olympic and Commonwealth medallist when on a chilly night at Meadowbank Stadium in 2002 he was introduced to Edinburgh rugby supporters. An anonymous Chris Hoy had watched the first half of the Celtic League match from a position behind the press box and the many quizzical looks among the crowd suggested that it was not only the pitchside announcer whose knowledge of the man and his sport was limited.
Five years later, Hoy held a press conference in a city centre hotel and addressed a handful of journalists, outlining his plans to attack the world record at the high altitude track in La Paz, Bolivia.
Yesterday’s announcement brought Hoy’s illustrious career full circle and magnified his changed status. The rugby link was there, albeit in rather more comfortable surroundings. And the media, their numbers a multiple of the sparse attendance drawn to hear of the Bolivian adventure.
The venue was close to the family home in the west of the Capital where a skinny youngster, inspired by scenes from the film ET, had taken his first pedal strokes towards global fame.
Even once he has pedalled away from the track, he will bring his influence to bear. The next generation of Scottish cyclists has already been inspired by Hoy. City of Edinburgh sprinters Callum Skinner and John Paul are among those who attribute their involvement in the sport to him. And his exploits in London last summer continue to tempt innumerable aspiring riders into the saddle.
Of course, he is now enjoying the financial trappings of his triumphant career. But that was never the motivation. His name is etched into Edinburgh sporting folklore while his role as an ambassador for cycling, for his home city, for Scotland and for Great Britain are assured. And there can be little doubt that whichever path he now chooses to follow – business, coaching, administration or media – Sir Chris Hoy will surely enjoy further success.
‘THEY WERE THERE TO SUPPORT ME’
THEY have been by his side since his first wobbly venture on two wheels, and yesterday Sir Chris Hoy paid tribute to his parents for their support and dedication throughout his track cycle career.
Familiar faces trackside as he powered his way to six Olympic gold medals, David and Carol Hoy’s unbridled delight and vocal support have become as much a feature of his victories as his collection of medals, awards and titles.
“My parents gave me the opportunity and the chance to do what I wanted to do,” he said. “No matter where I was in the world, they were there to support me.”
He also paid loving tribute to his wife, Sarra, whom he married at St Giles’ Cathedral two years ago, saying his priority now was to “spend time with Sarra”.
“It takes over so much of your life – it’s not a sacrifice, you chose to do it, but every decision is made around your sport.”