By Mitch Phillips
LONDON (Reuters) - Track cyclist Chris Hoy is Britain's most successful Olympian and has won more titles than he can remember yet his greatest sporting legacy could be his utter destruction of the notion that nice guys finish last.
Hoy, who announced his retirement on Thursday at the age of 37 having decided against carrying on until next year's Commonwealth Games at the Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome in his native Scotland, won six Olympic golds and one silver.
He also won more than 50 medals of various hues at world level, including 11 world championship golds with a combination of power, endurance, fearless aggression and iron will.
Throughout his glittering career, which also led to a British knighthood, countless "sportsman of the year awards", honorary degrees and doctorates and eventually national hero status, Hoy remained unfailingly modest, polite and fair and is held in the highest regard as a competitor and a man by both team mates and rivals.
When it came to self-effacement, Hoy has given the world a quote that marks him out as something different in the all-too-often self-obsessed world of professional sport.
Soon after scooping his third gold at the Beijing Olympics an eager journalist asked him: "Everyone has been offering an opinion on Chris Hoy, but what does Chris Hoy think of Chris Hoy?"
The Scot replied: "Chris Hoy thinks that the day Chris Hoy refers to Chris Hoy in the third person is the day Chris Hoy disappears up his own arse."
Four years later in London, having overhauled rower Steve Redgrave to become Britain's most successful Olympian, he was again in no mood to listen to the plaudits.
"When you think about what you have to go through to win five consecutive golds, to me, he is the greatest," Hoy said of his fellow thunder-thighed knight of the Realm.
The two sporting Sirs also shared a maniacal approach to training, going beyond the pain barrier day after day, year after year to put themselves in positions to win races by tiny margins.
Hoy's interval sessions on a stationary bike have become the stuff of legend in cycling circles.
His preferred approach was to set up his "turbo trainer" alongside a mattress so that when he had driven himself beyond exhaustion he could literally fall off the bike.
"Those intervals with short, intense bursts with restricted recovery are agony," Hoy said, explaining part of his punishing regime.
"It's just horrendous, your whole body is shutting down. You crash out on the floor and curl up in a little ball and it gets worse for about 15 minutes. Quite often you're sick.
"Every time you do it, it feels like the hardest thing you've ever done. You think that there must be something wrong, that it shouldn't feel that bad, that it feels awful, that you're going to die."
All the pain, the glory, the fame and a starring role in a toe-curlingly wooden breakfast cereal advert must have seemed a million miles away when Hoy innocently took up riding a BMX after being inspired by the 1982 film ET.
Showing immediate talent he soon began competing internationally before switching to the track as a teenager, winning a team sprint silver at the 2000 Olympics and his first major gold at the 2002 Commonwealth Games.
Hoy won his first Olympic gold in the 1km time trial in Athens, a monumental effort after the world record had been beaten three times before the Scot made it four on the final ride.
It was at Beijing, however, where Hoy crossed the line from outstanding cyclist to national treasure.
Britain won seven of the 10 available golds, with Hoy taking three of them in the team and individual sprints and the keirin - the first Briton to win three in a single games for 100 years - having had to redesign his training after his favoured 1km time trial had been dropped from the programme.
More changes to the format worked against him for 2012, as a rule limiting countries to one rider per event set up a three-year battle between Hoy and Jason Kenny to see who would get the solo sprint slot.
When Kenny was selected over the reigning champion, Hoy was the first to congratulate his rival, said that it was the right decision, and was on hand to cheer Kenny home when the move was vindicated by the younger man's victory in London.
The two were reunited to win the team sprint but Hoy left his best until last with a keirin performance that will live forever with the 7,000 lucky enough to be inside the velodrome and millions more watching the 60kph action on TV.
Coming off the back straight Hoy looked certain to be overhauled by German Maximilian Levy, poised in the perfect position on his shoulder, but the Scot somehow summoned even more power from his superhuman thighs to hold his rival off in a roof-raising triumph.
"This is the perfect end to my Olympic career," he said after a rare show of emotion during the medal ceremony. "At Sydney I was just over the moon with a silver medal. If I'd have stopped then I would have been a happy boy but to go on to Athens, Beijing and here, I can't put it into words."
Even in his ultimate moment, however, Hoy made sure he shared the glory.
"This is very much a team effort and I'm literally just the one person you see at the top of the pile," he said. "There are 100 guys working away in the background that don't get the credit."
(Editing by Mark Meadows)