Heroic great uncle inspires Hoy to ever greater challenges


Monaco (AFP)

Chris Hoy hates the cold but next January the British cycling legend will bid to break the world record for cycling to the South Pole spurred on by his role model his late great uncle Andy Coogan.

The 41-year-old Scotsman -- who in a stellar career won six Olympic track cycling gold medals -- is no stranger at finding new challenges since retiring in April 2013. He finished 17th in the Le Mans 24 hour motor race in 2016.

The amiable and humble Hoy said Coogan, who died last year aged 99, was a "remarkable human being" who had seen a promising athletics career cut short by World War II.

"He was sent out to the Far East captured and put in a Japanese Prisoner of War camp, some of the stories (he put it down in print in a book 'Tomorrow You Die') are absolutely incredible," Hoy told journalists at last week's Laureus Awards.

"Because of being imprisoned he never reached the level he might have done as he was potentially Commonwealth or Olympic level.

"He was second a yard behind the 'Mighty Atom' Sydney Wooderson, the mile world record holder, in the Ibrox Mile. His picture was in the paper and he cut it out and took it with him everywhere even when he was conscripted."

This was to have surprising beneficial ramifications for Coogan in the brutal conditions of his POW camp where twice he had to dig his own grave before being reprieved.

"One day in the POW camp during a random search a guard found the photo tucked away and he said to Andy 'that's you'," said Hoy.

"'Yeah that's me' he replied and the guard said 'phew I was an athlete before the war too and war is very bad'.

"From the next day onwards with the beatings the guard would hold back a little bit more."

- 'Bitterness and resentment' -

Hoy, who also won 11 track world titles and was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2009 for 'services to sport', said he would often think of Coogan -- who returned after the war and set up an athletics club and coached children -- when he was having a tough time on his bike.

"He is a pretty good role model to have in the back of your mind when racing wasn't going well and then reflect I'm just riding bikes round in circles and it is not a matter of life and death," said Hoy.

"He caddied until he was into his 80s and Japanese businessmen would say 'how come you speak Japanese?'.

"He would reply 'I went there on holiday once'.

"He of all people would have been entitled to feelings of bitterness and resentment but instead 'just be kind to each' other was his mantra."

Coogan will not be far from Hoy's mind when, provided he and the team succeed in getting the funding, he bids to break both the cycling world record (10 1/2 days) but also the human powered record (8 1/2 days) to the South Pole and raise money for charity.

Another tilt at Le Mans would also be welcome -- there is a chance he will race in the Portimao 24 hour race (in Portugal) -- adding "anyone offers a drive I'm game".

"It is an expensive project (the Arctic Challenge) to make happen," said Hoy, who is hoping to cycle the distance in a week.

"The aim is to raise an enormous amount for charity.

"From a very selfish point of view it is a good feeling to have in a very small way improved someone's life.

"I went to Iceland as a recce just with the bike to get used to riding in the snow and it was so much fun.

"I really enjoyed it and normally I hate the cold!"