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Laoshan Velodrome, Beijing

A few days ago I asked the slightly ridiculous question of who is the greatest Olympian of all time.

What prompted me to do so was having seen Usain Bolt's euphoric assault on physics in the 100m and the finale of Michael Phelps' accumulation of gold medallions in the pool.

But "GOATs" are a bit like London buses at the minute: none for ages and then three at once.

Now, I'm not going to suggest Chris Hoy is the greatest anything ever - I'll leave that to others.

I'm just going to tell you if there is a humbler, more inspirational, more personable Olympic sporting great out there, I would like to buy that person Beijing's finest steak supper and hear their story too.

Chris Hoy

Let me just recount some facts: three gold medals in these Games, another in Athens and a silver in Sydney. That makes Hoy the first British athlete to win three golds in a single Olympics since swimmer Henry Taylor in 1908. On top of all that, he has won nine golds, five silvers and four bronzes across 10 world championships. He is also a two-time Commonwealth champion.

The 32-year-old former BMX star finished his five-day shift in the Beijing velodrome as he started it: unbeaten, untouchable and unrivalled.

His 2-0 semi-final victory over Mickael Bourgain in the men's sprint suggests the Scot was a comfortable winner: trust me, that score flatters the Frenchman. Those races were the 15th and 16th wins for Hoy and he would not have to wait long for triumphs 17 and 18 (the same number of races Phelps swam on his way to eight golds...and he didn't win all of his).

The final pitted him against team-mate Jason Kenny - the second all-British final at Laoshan - and it is to Kenny's credit he actually stretched Hoy in their first race. The 20-year-old, who had teamed up with Hoy and Jamie Staff to get the British medal machine up-and-running in the team sprint on Friday, pulled off a sneak attack as they jockeyed for position on the bank.

Against anybody else, Kenny's move, which bought him a five-metre gap, would have worked. Hoy, however, simply muscled his way around the final lap in a time of 10.216 seconds (that's nearly 44mph) to beat the Englishman on the line.

The second race was more clear-cut and Hoy, who also led a British one-two in the men's keirin on Saturday, was able to sit up and celebrate as he crossed the line.

Those celebrations were a joy to behold. So focused and contained after his two previous gold-medal displays, Hoy was able to let it all out this time. There were big hugs for mum, dad, girlfriend and other friends and family, more hugs for coaches, team-mates and support staff, and hearty handshakes for just about everybody else.

After the medal ceremony was out of the way - the seventh of 10 at the velodrome to feature that upbeat ditty God Save the Queen and one or more Union Flags - Hoy embarked on a punishing round of interviews. They looked more tiring than some of his races but he never stopped answering the questions or agreeing to "one more over here please, Chris".

Chris Hoy pursues Jason Kenny

As is his wont, Hoy was quick to praise his beaten opponent.

"(Kenny) is going to be the best in the world," he said. "I'm just lucky to have met him now."

He then explained how much pressure had been released when he crossed the line for that third gold.

"It's an unbelievable feeling but everything just comes out," he said. "There was so much expectation, and it's been a really hard five days of racing, but then you cross the finish and it's all over and you've won. It makes everything worthwhile. All the sacrifices, all the hard work."

The expectations Hoy was labouring under were entirely self-inflicted. If you keep winning medals you're going to get a reputation.

British cycling's Olympic breakout has been one of those overnight miracles that have been a long time coming. Segments of the general public might be shocked by all this shameless success but cycling aficionados have been waiting for it - they're not surprised by what has happened, they're revelling in it.

"You can never expect a medal," Hoy said. "But we knew if we performed we'd be really hard to beat.

"I knew I could not have worked any harder. If somebody was going to beat me they were going to have to do something pretty special. And if they had I would have shaken their hand knowing I had given everything."

And that is British cycling's great "secret". They give it everything, be it in terms of training, equipment, preparation, you name it, no other team could match Team GB's efforts.

I spoke to Chris Boardman, the man who planted the seed of this week's mighty harvest with his individual pursuit gold back in 1992, and he summed it up like this: "The mission is clear - we're not involved in promoting cycling or anything like that. Our job is to win medals. We remember that all the time and everything we do is built around that objective.

"The attention to detail, the hard work, the great people we have, the hours we put in on the track or in the wind tunnel - everything starts from that clear mission."

There is no doubt British cycling has stolen a march on the rest of the world. The other teams could only look on enviously at the size and professionalism of Team GB's set-up (we were the only team to have a full-time sports psychologist here) and there is talk that many talented coaches from abroad want to join the winning team, not take it on.

Hoy was quick to praise the backroom effort - "our job is easy, we just ride our bikes, they look after everything else" - as have other members of the team all week.

But individuals matter too and it should not be forgotten British cycling is on top because it has remarkable talents like Hoy, Bradley Wiggins (who could also have won his third Olympic gold of the Games but ran out of steam in the Madison race) and Victoria Pendleton (Tuesday's other emphatic sprint champion).

In fact, Pendleton made it quite clear who her inspiration was: "Chris (Hoy) is a legend. He's my hero and he's even more of a legend now."

Hoy, the unofficial team captain (which is always the best way), is not the type to let that kind of talk go to his head - he'll be back training in a month and be back for more medals in London ("If I can get into the team," he said with genuine modesty), but his life will change now. He's made an undeniable bid for greatness, all that's left is how you define that.

Matt Slater is a BBC Sport journalist focusing on sports news. Our FAQs should answer any questions you have.


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  • 1. At 00:36am on 20 Aug 2008, jenstar2109 wrote:

    Just wanted to congratulate Chris on a terrific achievement. I've met him on a couple of occasions, and he was a lovely bloke - very humble. Everyone says what a great guy he is, and I can well believe it. I welled up watching him receive his medal this morning. Brilliant stuff!

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  • 2. At 01:48am on 20 Aug 2008, Aidy_the_Blue wrote:

    They speak of 'not being involved in promoting cycling...' Personally, I would have thought the emphatic success Team GB's cyclists have had at the velodrome this year would be do no end of good for the promotion of track cycling in Britain.

    Well done to Chris (and the rest of the team)

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  • 3. At 02:57am on 20 Aug 2008, lolita_zhong wrote:

    I am Chinese. I ride my bike all my life. I have never known how different in cycling. I feel happy to open my mind to enjoy different sports. When I saw they rode their bikes which are light and high speed, I love them. My bike is so heavy to ride faster than that. I can ride 22km per hour. What slow I am!
    I have watched TV and switch channels to find some interesting sport. I felt angry about cctv was half-way into these sports without any idea about sport.
    But at least, I can see more sports when Olympic is holding in China. It is advantage.

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  • 4. At 05:36am on 20 Aug 2008, AndyBL-Dubai wrote:

    Think of it, Cycling must be the UK's other national sport, all those children who cycle/bmx everywhere. Couple the breadth of 'material' available with the UK's technical and professional skills and it shouldn't be too much of a surprise. I was always more surprised that we never did better at the European Giro/Tour events - maybe that will change now as well after Cavendish's great efforts this year. But it is fantastic to see so much sheer determination and skill come to fruition, and I'm sure it'll keep going to 2012. Great effort TeamGB!

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  • 5. At 06:08am on 20 Aug 2008, quickquip wrote:

    When Chris Hoy or Phelps or Bolt win a decathlon maybe we can start to believe all this overblown GOAT hype. And when Team GB win a Tour de France maybe we can start to believe all the cycling team hype. Not to take anything away from their great performances at these Games but let's not lose all perspective in the euphoria of the moment. Jim Thorpe is still the greatest Olympian of all time, anyway - and he did it all without a full time "sports psychologist"!

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  • 6. At 07:29am on 20 Aug 2008, MikeFay wrote:

    quickquip - let's see a decathlete win the proper gold in any of their events against people who are good at them then.

    Cycling hype? They won seven of the ten track golds. No cycling team has ever dominated so much. That's not hype, that's delivery.

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  • 7. At 07:42am on 20 Aug 2008, Sam wrote:

    Sounds like quickquip stopped watching Olympics in 1912!

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  • 8. At 09:05am on 20 Aug 2008, stuzroz wrote:

    There is always someone like quickquip to try and put a downer on great things like this. He sounds like a baby throwing his rattle out of his pram, just chill out and enjoy a British success story for once.
    As a Scotsman, I am extra proud of Chris Hoy and am happy that team GB has delivered in spades at the Olympics (and we are not finished yet)
    So please stop moaning and putting people down, just enjoy the moment and shout loud for TEAM GB. Brilliant boys and girls, just brilliant.

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  • 9. At 09:12am on 20 Aug 2008, Ludwigs Lughole wrote:

    Was a real pleasure to watch Hoy and his team mates this year. After watching Cav win his 4 TDF stages, I had high hopes for he and Bradley in the Madison, but Wiggler was clearly tired from his previous exertions, which is a real shame. Cav bolted through the field when they were ready to launch their attack and sadly Wiggler looked a little pedsetrian.

    On the whole this has been one of the most enjoyable Olympics for me because of the Cycling success. Chris Hoy is a real hero. Sports Personality Of The Year? Well, there's only one contender this year in my opinion - and he rides a bike, not a Formula 1 car!!!!

    I heard the Australians were attempting to belittle our achievements this year by saying we only win on water, whilst sitting on something, or going backwards. Funny how they're only saying that this year because it's in all the events they have been so good at for the last 30 years!! Ouch, if you're an Aussie, the Poms have come and beaten you at your own game.

    Go TeamGB!!!!

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  • 10. At 11:10am on 20 Aug 2008, obrees-offspring wrote:

    I've no doubt cav will give brad some stick on the plane home. (friendly of course!) 20 quid on road gold for cav in 2012, with the only hills on the course being notting and primrose!

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  • 11. At 11:51am on 20 Aug 2008, ancientscrunty wrote:

    I have one fear after such a commanding all round performance by the cycling teams. What will happen now the tabloid press will surely get hold of it? Cycling has sneaked up, beneath the tabloid radar; if you wanted to read about it you would have to have looked in the Guardian or the Telegraph. Once the Sun and the Mirror get going will we find the likes of Hoy, Wiggins and particularly Vicky Pendleton being endlessly pestered by paparazzi and inundated with attention from 'Hello' magazine and the like? Our involvement in football, cricket, rugby and even athletics hasn't been helped one bit by such attention and I'm wondering whether British Cycling can keep the lid on things after this unique achievement. Compare Chris Hoy with Rio Ferdinand or even Andrew Flintoff, in the way they conduct themselves outside their own sporting involvement. Will we find Jamie Staff on 'I'm A Celebrity......'? Oh I really do hope none of that happens, but the pressure will now be on, no doubt of that.

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  • 12. At 12:25pm on 20 Aug 2008, Ladhar_Bheinn wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 13. At 1:07pm on 20 Aug 2008, truzig wrote:

    Greatest of all time? A question that is typical of the Olympic 'medal disease' that attacks our better sense of judgement every four years.

    Why do we have to glorify those who win the medals at the expense of those who don't? Are their sacrifice, effort and dreams ay less...if not their talent to win the holy gold?

    Of course the media is romancing us with London dreams. but where is the perspective? Show us the proud olympians who compete their hearts out with no reward and fame.

    Pariotism is ugly and ultimately empty when we place our pride on the altar of the medal tally.

    The greatest olympian ever? This is the impossible question. Perhaps Gabrielle Andersen-Scheiss and her unforgettably brave desire to finish the womens marathon as she staggered down the final hundred metres suffering severe heat stroke at the LA Olympics is the best example of truly answering such a question for all if not for herself should it need to be asked.

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  • 14. At 1:42pm on 20 Aug 2008, wildWattsy wrote:

    Fantastic Chris Hoy. If it wasn't for the ridiculous olympic situation where the men have 7 events on the track and the women only 3 I am convinced Vicki Pendleton would also have been celebrating 3 golds. She looked in a different class completely.

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  • 15. At 07:54am on 22 Aug 2008, RobertHK wrote:

    Amazing effort from Chris to show everyone who the team to beat is. I look forward to seeing Chris at the Sports Personality of the year awards in December. Its amazing to think that only three olympics ago we only won a single gold medal, and here we are with a man who can win three. Well done Chris.

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