The making of an Olympic hero: Chris Hoy

Sir Chris celebrates victory in Manchester at the 2008 World Championships
Sir Chris celebrates victory in Manchester at the 2008 World Championships
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HE has already had to steel himself to carry the national flag through the Olympic Stadium while trussed up in a glam-rock gold and white high-collared jacket and long shorts combo. But like most things, Sir Chris Hoy just took it in his stride with a big smile on his face.

Indeed, from the winning of titles and gold medals – he has four 
Olympic ones – to being knighted and even severely injured, as he was at the World Championships three years ago, not much seems to faze the man who used to ride his BMX around the streets of Murrayfield as a teenager.

Aged ten at George Watson's College

Aged ten at George Watson's College

Probably not even the prospect of becoming the nation’s greatest Olympian ever, supplanting Sir Steve Redgrave if he wins a further two golds in the London Olympic velodrome this week, will be keeping him awake at night.

At 36 years old it will likely be his last Olympics, but while his Lycra suit, aerodynamic helmet and shaved shins can all be replicated by his competitors, the one thing that Hoy will have in his armoury when he takes to the track tomorrow, according to his former PE teacher, is his leadership, amazing focus and will to win.

“When you put kids into a competitive situation in a gym, some will rise and make themselves noticed. Chris was one of those. He was competitive from a very early age,” says Roy Mack, who was head of PE at George Watson’s College for 12 years while Sir Chris was a pupil at the school. “He was also a kind of born organiser and leader. Even at the age of five when he first came to school those qualities were obvious.”

Mack, who is now the school’s director of projects in its development office, believes that even if Chris had never straddled a bike saddle, he would still be a great 

Carrying the Union flag at the London opening ceremony

Carrying the Union flag at the London opening ceremony

“Chris took part in everything that was put before him. He was keen to win, but also to be part of a team. He was captain of a rugby team in his second year, which is a position voted for by staff and pupils. He was very popular. He was very good at rugby and saw Gavin and Scott Hastings [former pupils and Scottish rugby internationalists] as real heroes.

“But he was also an extremely good rower. To be honest, I think it could have gone either way for a while – rowing or cycling. But cycling was his big thing from BMX onwards. Even then, he still carried on with his rowing because of his commitment to the team right up until sixth year and he would coach the wee ones as well. He didn’t need to do that, but it shows even then that he wanted to give something back.”

Of course, the tale of how Chris Hoy became an Olympian has been well told. His first bike at the age of six was a girl’s hand-me-down which he soon broke thanks to his attempts to emulate the BMX stunts he’d watched in awe in Steven Spielberg’s ET.

His mother, Carol, has spoken of his delight the day she and her husband, David, took him to the bike shop to get his own BMX. But just riding it wasn’t enough – he wanted to race. And so good was he that by the age of 14 he was ranked second in Britain, fifth in Europe and ninth in the world.

On his beloved BMX

On his beloved BMX

By 1992 he’d discovered road 
racing and joined his first cycling club – Dunedin CC. Two years later he was on the track, training at the Meadowbank velodrome and competing for City of Edinburgh Racing Club, and since 1996 has been an integral member of the Great Britain squad.

But would any of it have happened without being exposed to sporting excellence at school? “Part of the purpose of a school is to expose kids to sports and at Watson’s we’ve always been very lucky that we’ve been able to give pupils the chance to sample many different types of sport,” says Mack.

“Then when a pupil discovers their niche we do all we can to encourage them in it, either within the school or with the links we have to outside sporting clubs. Chris would no doubt have succeeded because he has the drive within him. We couldn’t offer him cycling training, but when he had a schedule of training to follow then he could use our gym facilities – in much the same way the Bell brothers did for their skiing training.

“I think that kids love being active and when they find something they enjoy then there’s no need to push them, they just do it. It’s finding their niche that’s important. It’s like a kind of chemistry. Chris, though, found his own niche.”

Celebrating with fellow victorious Scots on an open-top bus  through the Capital after Beijing

Celebrating with fellow victorious Scots on an open-top bus through the Capital after Beijing

He found it at a time when cycling was not considered “sexy” so there was little funding. Indeed, when he rode for Britain, he had to sign out a team tracksuit and return it for someone else to wear. The National Lottery changed all that.

From 1997 to 2008 Chris was funded by the Lottery, which meant he could train full-time and had the best facilities, medical support and coaching possible. He himself has been vocal about his gratitude to the Lottery.

Tonight the National Lottery, along with Roy Mack, will be sending a good luck message to Chris from his old school. “We’ve sent e-mails already so he knows we’re right behind him and will be watching,” says Roy. “What he’s achieved already has been amazing, so it would be fantastic if he can do better. But whatever happens he’s a great ambassador for the school and for Edinburgh.”


HEIGHT: 6ft 1in

WEIGHT: 14.5st

THIGHS: 27 inches

CHEST: 38 inches

TRAINS: 25 to 35 hours a week

EATS: 6000 calories a day

HEART RATE (resting): 30-35 bpm

WINS: 11 World titles

4 Olympic gold medals

2 Commonwealth Games gold medals

1 Olympic silver medal


1 Knighthood

3 university honorary doctorates

WITH a 15-year-old girl from Lithuania and a 16-year-old Chinese girl both winning swimming golds in the Olympics, there has been much debate on how other countries spot sporting talent at an early age.

While even nursery teachers in China are on the lookout for any physical signs in their small charges of future Olympic potential, in the UK it is a rather more hit-and-miss affair.

Of course, not every child enjoys sport and many prefer to play it in a virtual world rather than a real one. But the reason for that, according to Judy Murray, is because they are not taught the building blocks of sporting excellence at an early age and in a fun way.

So she – along with her tennis champion sons, Andy and Jamie – has recently launched Set4Sport, a programme which is aimed at five to eight-year-olds to encourage them to get the basic skills needed to be good at sport when they are older.

By playing games such as double trouble – passing and catching two balls – children can develop spatial awareness, balance and tactical thinking, all skills which could set them on the right road to becoming sports champions of the future.

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