x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Knight rider is tracking even more honours

The Olympic champion Hoy says that he intends to raise his game for London 2012.

Sir Chris Hoy with Great Britain's wheelchair basketball team.
Sir Chris Hoy with Great Britain's wheelchair basketball team.

Sir Chris Hoy's life has changed beyond recognition since the Olympic Games in China, but he is still a man with a one track mind. The Scot last week received his knighthood at Buckingham Palace and that is by no means the last honour he has set his sights on. The triple Beijing gold medallist has already begun his preparations to defend his Olympic titles in London in 2012.

Hoy should have been the main draw for the Track World Cycling Championships in Pruszkow, Poland, in March, but a hip injury following a nasty fall at a warm-up event in February ruled him out of action and he missed out on what would have been a 14th consecutive Worlds. He is now back in training but last month took time off to be a guest of the BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team at the Rally of Italy in Sardinia.

And the 33-year-old, who got first-hand experience of a Ford World Rally car as a passenger of driver Matthew Wilson, the son of team boss Malcolm, revealed his love of four wheels as well as two. "I've always had a big love of motorsport, the rallying stuff in particular," said Hoy. "I guess it's just that passion for going fast and getting a ride in one of the World Rally cars was immense. Driving that takes balls."

The same could be said of Hoy, who hurtles around the world's banked velodromes at speeds of nearly 70km per hour despite the risks of which he has more recently become all too aware. During his career the Scot has been relatively lucky to avoid some of the nastier crashes, but he has just come to the end of arguably the longest lay-off of his career. There may never be a good time for injuries but Hoy admits the thought of suffering a similar setback en route to Beijing would have been devastating.

"It's one of the risks of bike racing," he said. "You know it's something that can happen when you're shoulder to shoulder at those speeds. It can be a bit aggro. "It's fairly intense being in that bubble the whole time and, while I'd rather be on the bike, you might be right in saying the break could do the trick and give my body a chance to have a rest before the cycle starts towards the next Olympics."

Despite the relatively good timing, Hoy was still bitterly disappointed to miss out on the World Championships. And the fact that he opted against travelling with the team for the event indicates that he was hurting - both mentally and physically - at the time. "I'd been at the last 13 Worlds and, outside of an Olympic year, that was always the highlight of the season," said Hoy. "So to miss out on something like that was a big, big blow. It was also a bit alien not being there."

His next major competition is now not until October but just to be back on his bike and pounding around the track is enough for Hoy. For now. "I am absolutely loving being back," he said. "Riding bikes is what I do. I feel in great shape, the best I have for a long time. I'm still not right up there with my peak fitness but the injury's taken its toll. "There was quite a thud when I hit the velodrome in Copenhagen and it definitely hurt at the time. But I think the medical staff were surprised by how long I was out injured for. It's just fluid kept on filling around the hip and had to be drained but that seems to have finally sorted itself out.

"I've been lucky with injuries in the past and I'm glad because it is so boring being out unable to get on the bike." His injury lay-off has given him plenty of time to pursue other interests off the bike. He has been working on his autobiography and dealing with the massive public adulation in the wake of his Beijing success plus he has even tried his hand at wheelchair basketball as an ambassador for the Paralympic World Cup event in the UK.

And he also made time to get engaged to his lawyer girlfriend while on holiday in Prague last month. "It's been a crazy time since Beijing," he said. "The trip to Prague was the first time I'd had any time away and it seemed the right moment. "But my life's changed beyond all recognition since Beijing. In the past, I'd ride my bike and no one would have a clue who I was but everyone likes to stop me nowadays for an autograph and a chat. That's nice but sometimes you just want to get on with what you do and that's riding bikes."

Hoy has become one of the most recognisable sportsmen in the UK as a result of his track success, which has led to envy from some of his Team GB teammates, including Victoria Pendleton. Pendleton, who went on to become the star turn at the Worlds in Hoy's absence, confessed recently to pining for Hoy's fame. "I've told her it's not all good, particularly when you're having a grumpy day which you do as a sportsman," he said.

As premature as it might seem, the rest of 2009 for Hoy is aimed at getting ready for the defence of his Olympic titles in London in three years' time. While some of his Team GB team-mates pursue their professional road-race ambitions in between Olympic years, London 2012 is now Hoy's sole target. By the time the event comes to the UK, Hoy will be 36 but he insists he is far from done with cycling and insists he can still peak past 2012.

"You never know what's round the corner, as my crash showed, so you don't want to make too many predictions," he said. "But defending my titles at London 2012 is the goal first and foremost. I'll be up against it from my own teammates who are already knocking on the door and showed at the Worlds that I need to raise my game." Injury permitting, Hoy looks a certainty to defend his titles in England's capital and, according to those behind the scenes at Team GB, he is comfortably on target to do so.

One thing he will not be guilty of is complacency or for that matter overconfidence. "If I never win another medal I guess I should still be grateful for all the success I've had," he said. "I've been very lucky but Beijing has made me want even more in London and I may even consider the Commonwealth Games in Scotland two years after that but that's still a long way away. "For now the focus is on the World Cup event in October and seeing if I've just got what it takes."

mmajendie@thenational.ae