Leader: The legacy of Scotland’s big wheel will endure

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NEWS that six-time Olympic gold medal winner Sir Chris Hoy has decided to retire cannot but be received with considerable sadness, particularly ahead of the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.

But both in his sporting prowess and in his exemplary conduct he leaves a huge and enduring ­legacy that will be celebrated here in Scotland and around the world.

He has played a pivotal role in transforming cycling as a competitive sport for Britons and into a much-loved spectacle for millions of fans. He has been a fantastic ambassador for Scotland and his sport. He has given Scottish children a role model, both as a sportsman and at a critical period when the wider benefits of cycling and fitness have seldom been more important. And his example has kindled interest and emulation in a way of keeping fit that can last a lifetime. ­Cycling, which experienced a long and seemingly relentless decline in popularity, has recovered, with a potent appeal to a new generation. Sales of bikes in the UK, already reckoned by Mintel to be at an all-time high, are set to gain momentum over the next five years to increase by 23 per cent over this period to reach £800 million by 2016.

The success of Sir Chris will have played a very significant part in sparking this new bicycle boom.

Little wonder he has become a sporting icon for millions of young people. His achievements have earned him fair claim to be Britain’s greatest Olympian. The two gold medals that he won in London last summer added to the four he had won in previous Games. His sixth beat rower Sir Steve Redgrave’s previous mark of five. All told, he clinched no less than 11 world titles.

The decision to retire, announced with great dignity and consideration yesterday, cannot have been at all easy, particularly at the age of just 37. Choosing the time to bow out is one of the most difficult decisions in any sportsperson’s career, particularly when the temptation to stay on for the next competitive challenge is close at hand and the weight of expectation is ­colossal. Particularly if the next big event is in your native land. He spoke with characteristic modesty of how he wanted “to get a medal for Scotland. I didn’t think I could, so wanted someone else to take my place. To go on for another year would be one too far”.

His selfless decision gracefully passes the torch to a new generation of competitive cyclists. As a direct result of his dedicated pursuit of excellence there should be no lack of young talent eager and able to take up the challenge. But his legacy, of course, will be felt far wider than the cycling track and can be seen across Scotland today. It is good news that Sir Chris will continue to pursue an ambassadorial role for Scotland in the world of sport, and we are sure that he will continue to make a massive positive impact in developing, promoting and mentoring. We wish him the very best in the future.

Heart problem still needs beating

For years, the city of Glasgow topped a grim table as the heart disease capital of the UK. But latest figures from the British Heart Foundation (BHF) show an encouraging improvement. The number of deaths per 100,000 people has fallen to 128 in the period 2009-11, compared with 151 for the previous ­corresponding period, moving the city down to third in this chilling league table.

Several factors may have contributed to this improvement – greater care being taken in lifestyle choices, in particular eating and drinking; access to better treatments and service ­improvements.

Across Scotland overall, the number of deaths from heart disease is reckoned to have fallen by 8.1 per cent between 2010 and 2011. The reduction in death rates for heart disease follows other promising indications that the country could at last be shaking off its “sick man of Europe” tag, with falls in stroke and cancer mortality in recent months.

However, encouraging though this is, there is no room for complacency. Scottish regions took up three spaces in the BHF’s new top ten of heart disease deaths. After Glasgow in third place, West Dunbartonshire came in fifth with a rate of 124 per 100,000 population and ­Dundee tenth at 112 per 100,000. And coronary heart disease is far from beaten – it remains the single biggest killer in Scotland. It is this depressing statistic that lies at the heart of a hard-hitting Fight for Every Heartbeat campaign being launched by the foundation. The latest figures give hope for further improvement, but the continuing evidence of health inequalities in Scotland’s most challenged areas point to a daunting task ahead.