SIR Chris Hoy attracted crowds like royalty does paparazzi when he pitched up in Glasgow yesterday to launch the final year’s countdown to the city’s Commonwealth Games 2014, but it was the large building bearing his name in London Road that he insisted provides real hope of Scottish sporting success in years to come.
The Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome was opened officially last October and Britain’s most successful Olympian was back there yesterday marvelling at the fact that Scotland had its own purpose-built, indoor cycling arena. In a quieter moment away from the throngs of autograph-hunters, of all ages, that besieged him at the Games’ “One Year To Go” breakfast in Buchanan Street, Hoy had earlier pointed to the legacy of the Games’ new sporting arenas as being the key to changing Scotland’s sporting culture.
“It’s surreal when you see this beautiful facility with your name on the side of it,” he said. “It’s a massive honour, even just to think that we would ever have an indoor facility in Scotland of that scale and quality.
“We’ve had Meadowbank in Edinburgh, but because it’s outdoors, it meant you couldn’t train or compete when it rained. Now we have somewhere you can ride 12 months of the year. I know guys from all around the world who competed in the velodrome at the World Cup last year, and they were genuinely blown away by it, it’s state of the art.
“It’s crucial to have infrastructure like that. Facilities are the first part of the whole journey towards sporting success. We saw that with the Manchester velodrome. Up until then we had very, very rare and sporadic moments of track cycling success, and it was down to individuals with amazing talent and drive who travelled round the world to find places to train.
“But Manchester was the start of the British team’s success, and I’m sure the Glasgow velodrome will be instrumental in the future success of Scottish cyclists.”
That statement also questions the lack of investment by Scottish and UK governments in sporting facilities in Scotland, and its level of priority remains questionable at Holyrood, but spending money was a key part of attracting the Games back to Scotland after a 27-year absence.
Hoy is eager to see it begin to pay off, even if he will not have the chance to wave the flag in the heat of battle anymore. The enthusiasm with which he carried out his ambassadorial role in Glasgow was testament not only to his appeal but the drive he has shown over two decades to become and remain the world’s leading cyclist through an unprecedented seven Commonwealth Games and Olympic Games. Many hoped that he would continue to Glasgow 2014, but that was a hope based on raw emotion as his ability to remain competitive to the London Olympics at the age of 36 was in the realms of a superhuman effort.
The question now is whether Hoy was a genuine one-off, or whether his example, and that of Andy Murray, may be the beginning of a new era for world-class sporting talent to emerge from Scotland. He believes the latter, if the athletes seize the new investment in opportunities such as this.
“To have a home support and a home crowd is a unique experience and this is the perfect opportunity for Scottish athletes to witness and experience that,” he said. “We have to make the most of it. With a year to go, it’s a very intense and exciting time for athletes, but it’s also a nervous time, as you are trying to avoid injury and stay fit and healthy.
“A year ago I was in Newport at the holding camp for the Olympics sitting in front of a laptop watching the Tour De France live, and I can’t believe how much life has changed in a year.
“But the legacy of London is still very strong right now. There’s an afterglow and people are very positive about sport, whether it’s related to Olympic sports other events, even sports we haven’t always been that great at.
“The Commonwealth Games will hopefully be the next stepping stone towards more success for Scottish and British sport.”
Hoy was forced to withdraw from the Scotland team for the 2010 Games in Delhi after the International Cycling Union controversially placed a key London Olympics qualifier too close to the Commonwealths, but this will be the first Games he will be watching as a relaxed spectator since 1998.
“It’s a shame I’m not going to get to do it again,” he said, “but I’ve had a great lengthy career and I have no regrets. It’s time for other Scots to take up the challenge now and they have no better opportunity than here in Glasgow.
“I’ve no doubt the Scottish team will deliver. You don’t want to put too much expectation on people in terms of medal tallies, you just have to go in there, know as a nation you’ll cheer on the athletes, and hope they bring the medals back.
“And the biggest thing the athletes can do is enjoy it. It seems an easy and straightforward thing to say, but you have to enjoy the moment. Don’t see it as a burden or expectation to perform; see it as a chance to step out there and enjoy yourself. The crowd want you to win, but they won’t be disappointed if you don’t. They just want you in a Scottish jersey to do the best you possibly can. If you do that and focus on the process rather than the outcome of winning medals, and the ‘what ifs’, then you’ll do better.”
Memories of the last Commonwealth Games in Scotland, hosted by Edinburgh in 1986, are mixed for many after its financial meltdown and controversial involvement of media mogul Robert Maxwell, but Hoy is confident that this time around the nation will experience a wholly different affair, in part due to the success of the London Olympics.
“If anybody out there is thinking about coming to Glasgow for the Games, I would say they have to do it 100 per cent,” he said, “because (otherwise) the time will pass in the blink of an eye, and they will wish they had gone.
“There are people who wished they had gone to the London Olympics, and they are kicking themselves now. The Glasgow Games will be just as fantastic an opportunity. There’s a real buzz around the city already, and even so early in the morning [the launch breakfast started at 7.30am] you see the balloons and pipers; it’s just a sample of what it’s going to be like in a year’s time.
“This is a hugely passionate city, in particular when it comes to sport, and the atmosphere is just going to build and build.
“People are ready to welcome the rest of the Commonwealth and the world here to witness what Glasgow can put on and, in my opinion, there’s no doubt Glasgow is going to put on the best Commonwealth Games we’ve ever seen.”
He added: “Sport is important for everybody. It’s not just about winning medals. It can play an important role in everyone’s life for health and social reasons. In cycling terms, for example, you can use your bike to go to work or go out with your mates. So, that’s why, when you look at the Games and what it will bring, it’s not just about one event for me, but about the longer lasting event on people’s lives.”