AS CHRIS Hoy took to the stage to announce his retirement from international competition last week, there was a moving montage of his finest moments playing on the TV screens.
World Championship medals being won, Commonwealth Games performances and Olympic dreams being fulfilled… but as he later spoke about the desire to see facilities safeguarded and even improved, ramming home the part the wooden track at Meadowbank played in honing his talent, it stirred up thoughts of another video.
It was made in 2008 and saw Hoy add his clout to a campaign to “Save Meadowbank”. That video is still available online. Unfortunately, the fears which prompted it also remain. And while there is a new world-class arena in Glasgow which bears his name, Hoy has made it clear that his heart and soul is in ensuring enthusiasts throughout the country have somewhere where they can be introduced to the sport which brought him worldwide acclaim.
“Whilst it’s amazing to have this multi-million-pound facility in Glasgow, you don’t want to forget Meadowbank,” he said. “I’d not be here without that facility. 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.” He added: “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.”
Scottish Cycling’s chief executive Craig Burn agrees. “Chris has undoubtedly done a lot to generate interest in cycling,” says Burn. “And there is undoubtedly a huge demand for facilities. The demand on the Glasgow track is actually more than we can cater for and I’m fairly confident that we could build five indoor velodromes around the country and they would all still be booked pretty much 24/7. We don’t necessarily need another world-class arena like we have in Glasgow so that would make them affordable. But, ideally, we would love more indoor or at least covered wooden tracks.”
As always in these straitened times, it comes down to cost. The price of a decent wooden indoor facility is estimated at £5 million, with Edinburgh Council instead looking into the feasibility of a cycle park which would incorporate facilities for BMX, road racing and a track circuit. But as it stands it wouldn’t be a wooden circuit or a covered one.
“With regards the future of Meadowbank, the priority is to keep it open this year but beyond that we will be working with Edinburgh Council and others to convince them that we need a replacement indoor wooden track and if we can’t have that, then we need to work out what we can have because there is undoubtedly the demand,” says Burn. “There is a commitment from Edinburgh to look at new dedicated cycling facilities so I hope that can happen and if it does then we can ensure that Chris will leave a lasting legacy and the future will be bright.”
Hoy has done his bit. He has actually done more than his fair share to raise the profile of a sport he loves. In 2014 it will be up to others to take that on.
Ever humble and aware of pitfalls and obstacles, Hoy has said the time is not right to step into a coaching role which would see him having to train people who were until recently team-mates, but he has made himself available to mentor the Scottish 2014 athletes and will remain an ambassador for Glasgow 2014. Both roles will prove invaluable, according to Michael Cavanagh, chairman of Commonwealth Games Scotland.
“Obviously, we would prefer to have Sir Chris competing, but he has already won two golds and two bronzes for us in the past and has made a massive contribution,” he says. “But we are delighted that he will still play his part next year in helping promote the Games and help the next generation.
“Even if Chris had competed next year, we were already looking at ways of keeping him in Glasgow after the track cycling was over. He did that informally in the past, in Melbourne, and I remember him sitting with young athletes and them all sitting there, eyes wide open, as he shared his experiences with them. So we are keen to keep him involved in that way and delighted he wants to take on that mentor role and as a Games ambassador he will still have a special part to play in promoting the Games.
“The velodrome will sell out anyway and in a big way that is down to Chris because he has introduced so many people to the sport and the excitement of an event inside a velodrome.”
He has also shown those who wish to follow in his footsteps exactly what is required.
“I was always amazed by Chris’s mental attitude and his competitive approach,” says Cavanagh. “I remember him winning his gold medal in Athens and three of the four guys before him had broken the Olympic record. He was asked if he had been worried when he saw the other guys going so fast. He said, no, he just thought it must be a fast track. That shows how positive he is and if we can tap into how he can help others believe in themselves in that way then he will continue to help sport in this country flourish.”
Hoy may not make it on to a medal podium in Glasgow, but he is likely to have been a huge inspiration for many who do. That’s a worthwhile legacy.