If there is one discipline in particular that Great Britain has excelled at in recent years come the Olympic Games, it’s cycling. With three of our most decorated male athletes having competed in that particular sport, alongside a fair share of their female counterparts, Britain has quietly and efficiently made themselves a force to be reckoned with on two wheels.
At the forefront of that charge was Chris Hoy. Over his career on the track, the Edinburghborn speedster notched up 11 World Championships and six Olympic golds, making him the second most decorated Olympic cyclist in history – and securing Hoy a place in the pantheon of British sporting greats, as well as a knighthood to boot.
But for Sir Chris, the initial impetus that kick-started this dazzling career wasn’t exactly grounded in reality, but rather came from an unlikely Hollywood source.
“Rather embarrassingly, I was inspired to take up cycling by watching E.T.,” the 42-yearold reveals with a laugh. “I watched E.T when I was six, and I’d never seen a BMX bike before, and that was it I was hooked, I thought ‘I really want to have a go at this’. I pestered my parents after that, and they got me a second-hand bike and my dad did it up and put BMX grips and handles on it and that’s really how I got started.”
Hoy retired in 2013, having seen the sport of cycling transformed under his banner into Team GB’s biggest asset on the world stage. He still serves as an inspiration for a new breed of young cyclists who can take advantage of the increased funding handed to the sport of the back of careers such as his, Jason Kenny and Sir Bradley Wiggins. Much has been made in recent years regarding the transition for ex-athletes from competition to retirement, and for a man as dedicated as Hoy the experience could have been jarring had he not been prepared.
“There are a number of things that I’m doing, and have been doing, rather than waiting to retire and then think ‘what now?’,” he agrees. “You need to have a plan and a bit of variety. I never have the same week now. I used to have the same week, year after year, doing exactly the same time, and I enjoyed that. I loved having that focus and that one single objective.
“But now that I’m retired it’s nice to have that balance in my life and to do lots of different projects, wildly different things: from writing kids’ books for five to eight-year-olds to doing challenges like hopefully riding across Antarctica on a bike soon. It’s lots of different things, but the one thing that unifies them all together is hopefully inspiring people to make the most of opportunities in their lives.”
As the figurehead of Team GB – a position exemplified by his carrying of the national flag during the 2012 Olympic opening ceremony at London – Hoy has long used his reputation as a role model to champion the efforts of young athletes hoping to emulate his achievements in the future.
“I was lucky that there was a BMX track - an outdoor one - in the park about a mile or so away from my house, and I used to go there every weekend and just ride my bike all day and when it got dark I would come home,” he explains. “Without that, I would never have known about BMX, I would never have got into it. You have to have those facilities and opportunities there for kids – they do want to do these things they enjoy. It’s about providing those opportunities and finding the people who are willing to give up their time and run these programs.”
This understanding of his reliance on readily available training spaces in his youth is reflected in Hoy’s post-retirement charity work. One such example is the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation – of which Hoy is an ambassador.
“When I got inducted at the first Laureus event I went to it was a bit like the UN,” he says. “You walk into this room and you sit down and you have your own desk and name plate. And then you look around the room…my jaw was on the floor. It hadn’t sunk in until I walked into that room and I looked round and there was Martina Navratilova, Boris Becker, there’s Mark Spitz, there’s Nadia Comaneci.
“They were my childhood heroes and you’re in the same room with them. Not just in the same room as them, technically you’re in the same bracket as them because you’re an Academy member too! To be part of that group, it is definitely one of the lifetime achievements that I am most proud of, it is quite astonishing. Anything I can do to help, I love to get involved.”
For former pros like Hoy, this kind of philanthropy has become ever more important in recent years. With government belts being continuously tightened, and green spaces and physical activities consistently under threat, the backing of men and women who have turned opportunity into success at an international level remains integral.
“You need the financial support, of course, but it’s nice to be able to raise that awareness through ex-professionals,” he nods. “To be a Laureus Academy member is a huge honour, and this is part of the job if you like, or part of your responsibility when you become an Academy member, you’re committing to try to improve the world through sport. As Nelson Mandela said, ‘Sport has the power to change the world’ and I totally agree with that on every level. It’s a universal language, you don’t have to know anything about the other person you can just get involved in a sport with them - you might not even know the same language! Sport can help people, it can give them hope in their lives, it can turn them around and give them something to focus on.”
Sir Chris Hoy is a Laureus Academy Member. Laureus Sport for Good uses the power of sport to end violence, discrimination and disadvantage. More information can be found at www.laureus.com