Sir Chris Hoy’s psychiatrist has said the Scottish cyclist has achieved the status of Britain’s greatest Olympian because he is able to manage the “chimp” in his brain.
Dr Steve Peters, best known for his work with the British cycling team, has helped build the success of Olympians such as Sir Chris and Victoria Pendleton.
Dr Peters has devised a concept of the brain in three parts, comprising the human side, which deals with facts, the computer, which is the storage and autopilot machine – and the “chimp” – the emotional part that thinks independently and can hijack performance and communication, but which can also be managed.
He said: “Scientifically, there is a whole team in your head of structures in your brain that work emotionally.
“When we meet someone, for example, the chimp is intuitive and reads body language. We can’t do that as humans.
“So the chimp is an emotional machine. It offers us feelings of paranoia, defence, happiness.
“It gives us quality of life but it’s also there for a purpose, to determine if there is danger and warn us, so it gives us those uneasy feelings, that second sense.”
He said Sir Chris had a remarkable ability to control when to allow the “chimp” side of his brain to take over.
“When he was in a keirin I asked him once: ‘How many times do you reckon the chimp jumps out in that sprint, which is only going to last about 30 seconds?’ He said: ‘Between six and eight times, potentially’. I asked how fast can you put it away and he said ‘less than a second’.
“What’s amazing with Chris is he’s not only a superb athlete physically, he’s also a superb person with emotional skills.
“He’s got that ability and he’s learnt and developed that skill to recognise which part of his brain is moving, whether it is appropriate or not and then deal with it instantly. And that’s an amazing ability.”
Dr Peters studied at Stirling University, then taught maths for eight years before becoming a doctor and psychiatrist treating men with severe psychiatric disorders.
He now works with elite athletes such as the England rugby team, snooker star Ronnie O’Sullivan and former Celtic and Wales footballer Craig Bellamy.
Dr Peters came to the attention of the public in 2004 when Sir Chris won gold in Athens, and claimed he couldn’t have done it without his psychiatrist.
Dr Peters said: “He is an excellent student. He came in telling me what he wanted to do, and what he couldn’t do. He was a very stable individual, there was nothing wrong with him.”
Dr Peters, who helped Team GB’s cyclists win 12 medals, including eight gold, at this year’s London Olympics, added: “To think I would end up at the Velodrome at the Olympic Games is quite mind boggling. It’s been a great journey.”