Sir Chris Hoy says athlete welfare need not come at the expense of Olympic medals

Sir Chris Hoy has warned that decades of good work could be undone if athlete welfare concerns stop Team GB chasing gold medals.

Sir Chris Hoy is a six-time Olympic champion.
Sir Chris Hoy is a six-time Olympic champion.

Abuse allegations at British Gymnastics and reviews revealing a “culture of fear” at British Cycling have sent the UK's high performance system into a tailspin.

But Edinburgh's finest, with six Olympic titles behind him, believes bringing home medals and protecting athletes are different sides of the same gold coin.

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“I don’t see why we can’t look after our athletes, take care of their physical and mental health and also create champions,” said Hoy whose full Olympic haul from track cycling is six gold medals and one silver.

“It’s a knee-jerk reaction to say we’re putting too much pressure on and chasing medals. That isn’t the problem.

“If you take your foot off the gas and not focus on getting the best out of athletes, other countries will and you’ll drop down the rankings.

“That’s the question, whether we’re happy for Britain going back to being 36th in the medal table as they were in Atlanta [at the 1996 Olympics]?

“You can still provide the necessary support for athletes, build resilience and help them shine as people. That’s what we should be focusing on, not pulling funding out.”

Former track cyclist Callum Skinner has opened a cafe on George Street, Edinburgh, where part of the coffee bar is made out of the wooden track from the old Meadowbank Velodrome. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

UK Sport, the Olympic and Paralympic funding agency, is in the midst of shifting its sport-by-sport funding priorities to a 12-year cycle rather than four to focus on the long-term strategy.

Callum Skinner is one of several former athletes to speak of the toll taken by a pursuit of gold, culminating in a breakdown at the 2018 Commonwealth Games.

The Edinburgh cyclist is now carving out a career as an athlete activist, podcaster and coffee entrepreneur, opening a shop in Edinburgh alongside fellow Olympic champions Owain Doull and Phil Hindes.

“Callum’s doing really well, he’s finding things he enjoys which can be so tough after a career in sport,” Hoy said.

Scotland’s Katie Archibald could compete in three disciplines at the Olympics in Tokyo.

“And most importantly when it comes to mental health, he’s talking about it. Other people will be able to relate to the struggles he’s had in and out of sport.”

The road to Tokyo 2020 in 2021 continues and Milngavie’s Katie Archibald will be among those hoping to continue Hoy’s legacy in the velodrome.

On paper Archibald has three opportunities to win gold next summer, with the Madison added to the team pursuit and Omnium on the women’s programme.

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Keen cyclist Kirsteen Durkin has been helping vulnerable people in Fife throughout Covid-19.

But Laura Kenny looks in pole position to take three berths and aim to drag her haul up to seven Olympic gold medals – past Hoy and perhaps husband Jason to the title of Britain’s most decorated Olympian.

Hoy is backing Archibald to respond to a below-par display at February’s World Championships in Berlin but wants to see her approach the new Olympic year differently.

“If Katie has a weakness, it’s that she’s so hard on herself. She beats herself up so badly if she doesn’t perform to the level she was expecting and hoping,” Hoy said.

“She sets herself such high standards, and that’s so important but she can be too tough on herself. I like seeing her enjoy her racing and just loving being on a bike.

“If the Olympics had been in 2020, she might not have been chosen for those events. She didn’t have a great World Championships this year by her own standards.

“Athletes are most dangerous when they’re disappointed. If she’s at her very best and Laura’s better, that’s saying something because Katie is a phenomenal force.”

Jack Carlin is another hoping to follow in Hoy’s footsteps, the sprinter having burst onto the scene with Commonwealth silver for Scotland in 2018.

Hoy admits he expected more from the Paisley native after a breakout year, but still expecting him to thrive in Tokyo.

“Jack suddenly went into events expecting to win after 2018, and a lot of us felt he would step up to that,” said Hoy.

“Jack is learning all the time, he’s maturing, and in the team sprint they’ve got a really good chance of medalling in Tokyo.

“He will have a great Games and to have guys like Jason Kenny on the team to learn from and train alongside is helping him. He will be a great star of the future.”

Hoy found time to make a cycling fan’s day when he staged a surprise thank you to Kirsteen Durkin, who has been helping vulnerable people in Fife throughout Covid-19.

The Burntisland local has been a long-time volunteer at Scottish Cycling Women’s Development Group and has helped run an Emergency Action Team during the pandemic, doing shopping, dropping off prescriptions and even picking up pets.

Hoy got a real kick out of taking part in the thank you, one of a number taking place across the UK to honour grassroots sports volunteers who have helped out with the use of some of the £30 million raised each week for good causes by National Lottery players.

“I’ve grown a beard in lockdown, so I’m just glad Kirsteen recognised me when I jumped on the Zoom call!” he said.

“It was really nice. These are the kind of people who don’t get the recognition - not because they want it, but because they only want to help people close to them.

“She’s an example of hundreds of people around the country doing what they can, they’ve got a huge amount of energy and enthusiasm to make things work. It was lovely.”

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