DCSIMG

Sir Chris Hoy says capital must keep kids on track

IN every corner of Edinburgh's Inverleith Park yesterday, the children were having a ball. Cricket balls. Tennis balls. New balls, please. This is what the organisers of the 2012 Olympic Games like to proclaim as The Legacy: inspiring the next generation to participate in sport rather than experiencing it second-hand through a television screen or via the virtual prism of a games console.

In the middle of a cluster of impressionable young minds, Sir Chris Hoy is proof, if it were needed, of the power of childhood dreams. When he first raced a cycle around a track, it was for simple enthusiastic enjoyment. Four Olympic gold medals later, and the thrill remains. Even at the age of 34, he can still remember what it was like to take those first rides on a journey into the glorious unknown.

Yet, barely four miles away, the cradle of his career is under threat of oblivion. Meadowbank Velodrome remains ear-marked for sale for property development by City of Edinburgh Council, the collapse in land prices merely delaying its seemingly inevitable demise. At best, sources state, its lifespan is no more than three years. Patched up and worn down, it is barely fit for purpose. And while a sparkling new track is being built in Glasgow for the 2014 Commonwealth Games, the suggestion that it is a direct replacement is an idea that appalls the city's sporting torch bearer.

"It's fantastic we're getting this new facility in Glasgow," Hoy stated. "It's an all-singing, all-dancing new facility which, for so many years, is what we've been calling out for. But at the same time, you don't want to lose having the facility in Edinburgh. It doesn't have to be a multi-million pound facility. It could just be a training facility which gives kids, like the ones out there, a chance to try out the sport and have a go. For me, living in Edinburgh, the chances are I wouldn't be a track cyclist now if there hadn't been a velodrome here. Where else would I have tried it out or used it?"

It undermines Edinburgh's professed target to become one of the world's 'most active cities'. And although Hoy is a patron of the Bank of Scotland School Sports Week that is giving children around the country an opportunity to try their hand at a variety of activities, he is genuinely concerned that the opportunity to follow in his footsteps could be lost.

"I'd be very sad to see the Edinburgh velodrome disappear and not be replaced," he underlined. "It's not just about producing champions in the future. It's about getting kids on bikes and having fun, being healthy and making the most of it. And taking up a sport in a safe environment and enjoying it. I do hope someone, somewhere, makes that call and replaces the velodrome at Meadowbank when it eventually does get demolished."

The other current target of Hoy's opprobrium is the International Cycling Union. Recently, it was announced that a new rule of one rider per country per event will be introduced at the 2012 Games, erasing the prospect of Britain's best riders monopolising the podiums as they did in Beijing.

There was not enough consultation, the Scots argues, nor was it fair. "Olympic swimming can add new events without losing any," he declared. "For cycling, and the endurance programme, to take such big hits, it was very difficult."

Yet, he insisted, it should not stop Team GB from embarking upon another golden spree in London. "Ultimately, for Britain, the changes are good because you have Victoria Pendleton who could win all those three new events. But it is frustrating as a fan of the sport."

Hoy remains intent on increasing his Olympian haul. However, with the changes concocted a tough internal battle for a place in the hosts' squad, there is a daunting road ahead. "You could almost spend as much energy fighting for places so that by the time you get to the Olympics, you're not in the best shape. It's about managing it. But that's one thing the British team does well." A new challenge beckons. The dreaming is not done yet.

 
 
 

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