Tokyo 2020: British cycling legend Chris Hoy backs Laura Kenny to lead medal haul

Six-time Olympic champion speaks about GB's medal hopes, other cycling disciplines, motor racing, and the future of British cycling.

By ZK Goh
Picture by 2012 Getty Images

When cyclists take to the Izu Velodrome southwest of Tokyo in August 2021 during the delayed Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, all eyes will be on traditional track cycling powerhouse Great Britain.

Husband-and-wife pair Jason and Laura Kenny are both on the cusp of making history – Jason is currently the joint-most-victorious British Olympian with six gold medals, while Laura could extend her record as the female with most wins in the velodrome, and even overtake her husband's medal record.

Indeed, Chris Hoy – who shares the current record of six golds alongside Jason Kenny – believes it could be Laura who steals the show in Izu.

"I think Laura is the one who really will come out to Tokyo and be the biggest superstar of the British team," he tells on a video call from Manchester.

"I think she could win three gold medals and and leapfrog Jason and myself and become a seven-time Olympic champion."

READ: Olympic track cycling at Tokyo 2020: Top five things to know

British cycling domination ending?

Since their very successful Rio 2016 Games, where they won five gold medals between them, Jason and Laura (who won her four Olympic golds at London and Rio under her maiden name, Laura Trott) have married, and welcomed a son, who will turn four years old this summer.

That, Hoy says, has helped Jason Kenny reset for the Tokyo Games, where he could also move into the sole lead for the most successful British Olympian, currently held by fellow cyclist Bradley Wiggins with 8 medals overall.

"His life has changed drastically in the last few years: he's become a father; he has become the joint most successful Olympian in Britain; and I think he's more contented himself as well," Hoy remarks.

"I think he still has the same desire and the same drive, but I think he has great perspective now he's a dad."

However, Hoy warns, British fans should not expect to see the same level of performance as they have become accustomed to at recent Olympics.

"I don't think we'll see a dominance that we've seen in the last two or three Games," he says.

"I think they'll win perhaps three or four gold medals, which should be enough to be the top nation."

Laura and Jason Kenny - All-around cyclists

Hoy, who participated in four Olympic Games' and also won a silver medal along with his six golds, did not grow up competing primarily as a track cyclist.

"I tried BMX, mountain biking, road, time trial, track, cyclocross as a junior, certainly. I raced and everything," he remembers.

He even shared with us that cycling wasn't a sport on his radar growing up, and he found the sport after being inspired by a Hollywood movie.

However, which discipline does he feel is best representative of an all-round or the most complete cyclist? Perhaps unsurprisingly, Hoy gravitates towards his own.

"I think track cycling is a fantastic way for young cyclists to develop all the skills, because I think you can learn everything that you need. On the track, you learn about pedalling action, everything is ramped up to 11, the intensity, the speeds, the you know, the quickness of reactions to things happening around you.

"So if you can develop your skills on the track, you can transfer that to almost any facet of cycling that you fancy doing."

However, Hoy adds that he has respect for BMX racers.

"I think BMX gets the image of being kind of a kid sport and a thing you do when you're younger and then you grow up and you do something else. But BMX, to me, is one of the most impressive Olympic disciplines out there.

"From a physical perspective, the guys who are racing there are very comparable to track sprint cyclists. So it's the same. And we see that the transition happens from BMX to track sprint quite frequently – the Dutch riders just now: Harrie Lavreysen, Jeffrey Hoogland. You look at Jamie Staff, an Olympic champion on the track [in 2008 alongside Jason Kenny and Hoy], he made the transition from BMX.

"So BMX, you have the physical side, but they also have this incredible skill and the danger. They're never more than a crash away from the end of their career. It's such an impressive sport. So BMX for me was a great way into track cycling.

"But I think track cycling for me, as an all-round [discipline], it encompasses everything. You've got endurance events, you've got sprint events, you've got time trial events, you've got bunch events. I think it's a fantastic sport."

Chris Hoy's motor racing ambitions

Since his retirement, Hoy has continued to cycle for exercise.

"I managed to get back to the reason why I loved cycling, the joy of being out on two wheels, whether it's on the track or out on the road or mountain biking or whatever," he says.

"I think it's important when you retire not to just stop exercising because you're as well as for your physical health, your mental health, too. I love cycling and I've been doing a lot more of it in the last year during the pandemic."

Off the bike, Hoy has taken to four-wheeled racing, competing in the British GT Championship, the European Le Mans Series, and the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

"For me, it's still a hobby, it's not a career," the 45-year-old insists. "I mean, the results are important and every race you do you're trying to win. But for me, the most important thing is the experience of driving these amazing cars or these amazing circuits.

"I guess my ambitions are to try as many forms of motor sport as possible and to experience some of the iconic races like the the Bathurst 12 hour in Australia. That's a really incredible race. I'd love to do that, the Nurburgring 24 I'd love to do and I'd love to do, some more rallying and more rallycross.

"I'd love to do the Dakar Rally. That would be amazing. There's a few Olympians I think have made that transition and have tried it before and there's a real sense of history with that event and adventure. I would love to give it a go someday."

Chris Hoy of Great Britain and 360 Racing (74) drives on track during practice ahead of the Sports Prototype Cup at Autodromo Internacional do Algarve on October 23, 2020 in Portimao, Portugal. (Photo by Rudy Carezzevoli/Getty Images)

Hoy's best team-mate

As a six-time Olympic champion who's been to four Olympic Games as well as a motor racing driver, Hoy has had many teammates throughout his sporting life.

So from everyone he could choose from, it might come as a surprise that Hoy picks Sydney 2000 Olympic champion Jason Queally as the greatest he has ever worked with.

"Jason won the gold medal in 2000 in Sydney; he was the first. He was the person that really kick started this amazing revolution within British cycling.

"And the reason that he's the best team-mate was because after that, as I was a younger rider coming through the ranks and closing the gap to Jason, he became like my mentor, and he looked after me and he gave me advice in training.

"He could see that I was closing the gap and that I was going to become a threat to him and at the Commonwealth Games in 2002, he was the reigning Olympic champion, he was the home favourite. We were racing for different teams – I was racing for Scotland; he was racing for England. And he still supported and helped me.

"In the end, I beat him by a tenth of a second, and he was the first person that came over and hugged me and supported me and said 'that was amazing, well done'. And I remember that moment thinking if I'm ever in the same situation with a younger rider coming through, I want to be as decent as Jason was.

"I think in sport, so often it's about the winning and focussing on being the best and being selfish. And I think as a team-mate, as a person who looked out for everyone else. Jason Queally was an incredible team-mate."

Jason Queally of England (left), Chris Hoy of Scotland (centre) and Jamie Staff of England (right) after the Men's 1000m final during the 2002 Commonwealth Games. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
Picture by 2002 Getty Images

Looking to the future

Although British Cycling struggled at the last World Championships in 2020 in Berlin, Hoy believes the future still looks bright for the country.

"There's a new rider, Ali Fielding, coming through for the sprint squad," Hoy says when asked to name an athlete to watch who's about to break through.

"He's been doing some amazing first laps in the team sprint. I think he could be a star of the future, and he seems to have that potential, that big engine, that horsepower.

"And I think Jack Carlin already has established himself. He was the new star maybe two or three years ago. He got a silver medal at the world championships in 2018 and he got second at the Commonwealth Games [but] he's had a bit of a plateau. I'm hoping that this is kind of a springboard for Tokyo; that he will show his best in Tokyo.

"There's so many talented riders coming through in all facets of cycling in the UK, and I hope it's because they've seen cycling [in the media].

"Cycling has been raised to a whole new level of exposure over the last 10 years, and I hope it's encouraging kids to get into the sport and to enjoy it."