Sir Chris Hoy interview: “It’s not about winning…”

Sir Chris Hoy on what it takes to become an Olympic champion – and how ET changed his life

I’d loved cycling for years. I saw ET when I was six and that got me right away. It was the chase scene, the way they use their BMXs to go over jumps and fly round corners. It was the coolest thing I’d ever seen. When I was 16 I began to focus on the track in the Meadowbank velodrome. That became my sporting obsession. Apart from that I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with my life. There was a lot of pressure on deciding on a career – what university are you going to go to, what’s your end goal? But really, all I wanted to do was ride my bike.

Obviously, I thought about girls. Mainly about how frustrating it was that you couldn’t get the attention from them you wanted. It’s funny when I watch things like The Inbetweeners now – it seems like a documentary of my teenage years. I wasn’t one of these guys who could chat up the girls easily, I didn’t have the confidence. It was the hardest thing in the world, to get a word out. I just sat there grunting. I remember my sweaty palms, practising the ceilidh dancing in PE as a warm-up for our first proper school ball, with kilts and everything. There were more boys than girls, so the big fear was being one of the leftovers. Aw, God, that was terrible.

It was the hardest thing in the world, to get a word out. I just sat there grunting

When it came to cycling I wasn’t one of these young prodigies. I wasn’t brilliant. But I was good, and learned early on that if I wanted to win a race I had to practise a lot and train really hard. Sometimes I did that and won, and I knew I could keep improving. I’ve carried that lesson with me my whole career. I enjoyed a challenge, I enjoyed the journey – how good could I be if I kept training, how much could I progress, how much faster could I go?

There’s no way the teenage me would have believed he’d win Olympic medals or world titles. If you told him six gold medals, that is just so beyond what he could imagine. There wasn’t a real culture of success in British cycling then – Graeme Obree and Chris Boardman and that was it. It’s drummed into you at an early age – you have to get an education, get a good degree, get a good job; that’s the recipe for happiness. But actually, I discovered if you find something you’re passionate about and you’re willing to work at it, there’s no reason you can’t make that your job.

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If I’d had my son Callum when I was still at the peak of my cycling career I’d have missed out on a lot. I was only away for five days last week and I could see a difference when I came back. I just wouldn’t want to have been away on an eight-week training camp when he was six months old. You can’t press pause and come home and catch up. It’s gone. It’s amazing being a dad, watching all the stages Callum’s going through. Remembering being a teenage boy and thinking of all the phases in between, imagining watching him making those strides through life. It’s exciting.

The biggest thing I’d say to my 16-year-old self is that it’s not about winning. It’s about enjoying what you do and giving it your all. That’s what my grandmother said to me when I was wee. It doesn’t matter what you choose to do; you could be sweeping the streets, you could be a teacher, a sportsman, but take pride in what you do and give it your best. That way you’ll get 100 per cent back. I’m incredibly happy in my life now, so I wouldn’t change anything that came before in case I ended up somewhere different.

I’d assure my younger self that self-doubt is normal. Of course I’ve had doubts about myself at times. Doubts keep you on your toes. If you think you’re invincible and you’re going to win everything, when you do eventually get beaten your whole belief system will be destroyed. I never felt that it was all fated and it would just work out and be fine. I went into every race thinking if I didn’t do everything absolutely perfectly then I’d lose. On the inside, there were doubts the whole time.

I kept riding round and round and I felt like I was in a dream

My first Olympic gold medal in 2004 in Athens was my first real test of nerve and concentration. It was a time trial, so you go one by one against the clock. I was the last to go and the world record had been broken three times before I went up there. I knew even if I did the best time I’d ever done in my whole life, I’d still only be third. When I finished I looked up at the scoreboard, but I kept riding round and round and I felt like I was in a dream. I was thinking, this isn’t real, it can’t be real. It was two laps before it sank in. I saw my mum and dad hanging over the balcony shaking their banner and it dawned on me that I was an Olympic champion. I’d dreamed and dreamed of this my whole life and it actually happened. No matter what came next, I was an Olympic champion. Nothing could ever change that.

If I could go back and relive any moment in my life it would be meeting my wife Sarra. It was a random night out in Edinburgh. I wasn’t looking to meet anyone. I didn’t want to get involved until after the Olympic Games in Beijing, it would be too complicated. We were introduced by a friend – she had heard of Chris Hoy but she thought I was Chinese. We chatted and right away… People talk about love at first sight… she was just dead funny and so easy to talk to. At first I thought, damn it, if only I’d met you in three months’ time. And she lived in Edinburgh and I was down in Manchester. But I realised it was too good an opportunity to miss. She was different to anyone I’d ever met.

I would have loved to have ended my career at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. But I had to be realistic. I was 38 and I wouldn’t have been at my best. I only wanted to go if I had a real belief that I would win a gold medal for Scotland. It was the next best thing to be involved and watch it all happening but I would’ve loved to have been up there. That’s life though – you can’t win them all. Seeing the Chris Hoy velodrome in Glasgow now, it’s amazing. The pride I feel… For so many years I looked at Meadowbank velodrome, wished we had a roof, watched it rotting away and wondered if we’d ever have an indoor facility. And now we do – and it’s got my name on it!

Sir Chris Hoy, Evans Cycles ambassador, has launched a partnership with British Cycling’s Go-Ride programme to supply 1,500 HOY bikes to help inspire more young people to get into cycling by 2020