It is difficult to contemplate an Olympic Games without Sir Chris Hoy competing but the Scot, who developed into a talismanic figure for the whole Great Britain team, never mind just the track cycling squad, is sure that a host of experienced figures will fill any gap left by his retirement following his heroics in London.
Last Wednesday marked the anniversary of Hoy leading out Team GB as flagbearer in the Opening Ceremony of those home Games which went on to be a spectacular fortnight for the host nation. The Scot contributed two more golds to his personal haul and the 29 in total that the British team won in 2012.
This will be the first Olympics for 20 years that have not involved the Edinburgh man, who is now 40. After winning silver in the team sprint in Sydney 2000 he went on to win 1km time trial gold in Athens four years later, then a stunning hat-trick of triumphs in Beijing (sprint, team sprint, keirin) before retaining those team sprint and keirin titles in London.
The British cycling team have had four years to get used to life without their leader.
“There is an embarrassment of riches really,” he said. “You’ve got Bradley Wiggins, Mark Cavendish, Laura Trott and Jason Kenny.
“It’s important to have people like that to help the younger less experienced members of the team, to offer a little word of encouragement when things maybe aren’t going well or situations get tense.”
The British track cycling team have developed a fearsome reputation for peaking at just the right time and have taken 14 out of 20 gold medals from the last two Olympics in Beijing and London.
Hoy feels it will be a tall order to repeat the seven titles won at each of those two Games but is still predicting “four or five” golds for the team.
“I’ve been keeping in fairly close touch with the team and, from what I hear, the times in training are really fast and they’re getting themselves to where they need to be at just the right time, peaking when it counts.
“I don’t think it would be fair to expect the kind of results and performances we saw in Beijing and London, they were pretty exceptional, but I still fully expect Great Britain to be the top nation on the track cycling medal table come the finish. The French, the Australians, New Zealanders will provide an even stronger challenge than the past two Olympics but I still think we can come out on top with maybe four or five gold medals.”
Hoy was speaking at the London Olympic Velodrome where he was launching an initiative which will see Nissan award a special golden all-electric Nissan Leaf car to any of its athlete ambassadors, who include the likes of heptathlete Katarina Johnson-Thompson, gymnast Max Whitlock and multi-gold medal winners David Weir and Richard Whitehead, if they strike gold at the Olympics or Paralympics. “I never got anything like this but I’ll always have my two gold post boxes,” said Hoy with a smile.
Asked what the secret of GB’s impeccable timing is when it comes to Olympic competition, he replied: “It’s a difficult thing to explain, it’s not just one thing you can point to. It’s something that’s developed over months and different things apply to different athletes.
“You try different training methods and a lot of it can be trial and error which is why it is something that builds over a long period of time. But it’s all just about knowing what it is you are aiming for, tapering off training to ensure you are in peak condition at the right time.
“You prepare for and focus on World Championships and World Cups too of course, but it’s always knowing that the Olympics is the ultimate goal.
“There is a psychological aspect to it as well. Dr Steve Peters [the leading sports psychiatrist who was a long-time consultant to British Cycling] isn’t involved any more but his legacy lives on. A bit like how you need to keep going to the gym to keep those muscles strong, with the mind you need to keep using those techniques to ensure that you are mentally ready for the stresses of competition.”
It has, of course, been a turbulent few months for British Cycling with the departure of technical director Shane Sutton, who Hoy has described as his mentor, amid claims of sexism, bullying and discrimination. It means that all three of the men credited with GB’s rise to global cycling superpower – Sir Dave Brailsford, Peters and Sutton – are no longer there.
Hoy, however, has faith that the upheaval can be overcome.
“There is an investigation taking place so we need to wait for that to take place,” he said of the Sutton saga. “Clearly having your director of coaching leaving not long before an Olympics is far from ideal for the team but I still expect them to deal with it and perform well.”
He may have retired in 2012 but it has been a hectic four years, with the arrival of his son Callum and a plethora of new ventures including designing his own bike range, co-writing a series of children’s books and a move into motorsport which recently saw him compete for Nissan in the famous Le Mans 24-Hour Race.
Hoy relishes his role as a media pundit, too, and is looking forward to being part of the BBC team in Rio.
“I do enjoy it,” he said. “It really is the best seat in the house and it’s good to be talking about something I know a bit about and hopefully offering some good insights for the viewers – some of whom may not have seen the sport before.
“It’s still close enough to my career that I know a lot of the riders involved and, hopefully, while perhaps explaining some things to the casual viewers, I can also offer some insight to the more serious cycling fans and make it interesting for them watching,
“These Olympics have come around so quickly. So much has happened in the last four years that I haven’t had much time to think about it but I’m really excited now. It’s the first Olympics I’ll have been to without competing so that should be interesting and enjoyable to see it all from a different perspective.”
The lead up to the Games has been dominated by the Russian doping scandal and fears over the Zika virus but Hoy is confident that the Olympic spirit will kick in and help deliver a memorable couple of weeks.
“Every Olympic Games I’ve been to there has always been something in the background in the build-up, some kind of concern or a feeling that things won’t be ready,” he said. “But every time it has proved to be worries about nothing.
“It is always alright on the night, spectacularly alright in fact and I’m sure it will be no different in Rio. I’m really looking forward to an amazing Games.”
Sir Chris Hoy is a Nissan ambassador. Nissan is the official automotive partner to Team GB and ParalympicsGB and will be giving a gold all-electric Nissan LEAF to its gold medal winning athlete ambassadors during the Rio 2016 Games. www.nissan.co.uk