Everyone in the Laoshan Velodrome was ready to usher Chris Hoy into the company of Olympic greats – except the Scot himself.
Hoy, 32, secured his third gold of the Beijing Olympics, the fourth of his career with victory in the sprint over team-mate Jason Kenny.
The last British athlete to win a hat-trick of golds at a single Games was swimmer Henry Taylor in 1908 – when the bulk of the competing athletes were British.
The Edinburgh rider – who is determined to compete at the 2012 Olympics in London – is one gold behind rowing great Matthew Pinsent and he also has a silver from the Sydney Games.
Hoy shrugged off comparisons with other multiple gold medal winners.
He said: “You really don’t think of yourself in that sort of company. Multiple gold medals is for Matthew Pinsent and Steve Redgrave or Michael Phelps.”
Victoria Pendleton, a gold medallist herself, described him as “an inspiration to the British cycling team and an inspiration to British sport in general. Chris Hoy for Superman? Yes!”
Kenny, a 20-year-old Lancastrian who has collected a gold and a silver from his first Games so might go on to rival Hoy, lost the best-of-three final in straight races.
And asked if Hoy had any weaknesses as a sprint cyclist, Kenny said: “Maybe not so much weaknesses and weaker strengths!”
Even the opposition like him - Australia’s Anna Meares, beaten by Pendleton in the final of the sprint, hugged Hoy as he came off the medal podium.
She said: “I just really respect what he’s achieved. He’s someone everyone can look up to in this sport.”
Hoy’s golds came from the team sprint, the individual sprint and the keirin and meant he was racing on all five days of the track programme – notably having to get up at 9am for qualifying on Sunday after only clearing doping controls at 11.30 the previous night.
He had been 20-1 to win his hat-trick and, although IOC rules forbid participating athletes from betting, Hoy revealed Sydney hero Jason Queally had taken a £50 punt.
Hoy said: “I just found out before tonight so if my maths are correct, he’s won £2,000!”
Four years ago Hoy was an Olympic champion in the kilometre time-trial.
Unfortunately for him, ’the kilo’ – as it is known – was deleted from the Olympic programme by the International Cycling Union (UCI) the following year to make room for BMX.
So, at a late stage in his athletic career, he found himself having to reinvent himself as a cyclist.
But the dark cloud has revealed a thick gold lining as, thanks to expert coaching from German former world champion Jan van Eijden and Iain Dyer, he has discovered the winning touch in three events rather than one.
“I’d have laughed if you’d told me that I’d win three gold medals two years ago,” Hoy said.
By coincidence, UCI president Pat McQuaid – who endorsed the decision to ditch the kilo, was the man who presented Hoy with his third gold.
Hoy revealed: “Pat said: ’You’ve got to forgive me now!”’
Hoy did not lose a race in five days in which he has had to scientifically measure out his sleep, his food and his training.
He still looked the best rider in the sprint and only Kenny got close to his standard.
With Kenny and Hoy both getting to the final, the gold and silver were guaranteed to go to British riders.
But any notion Hoy would get an easy run at the record was dismissed immediately they had come through the semi-finals.
Hoy beat Mickael Bourgain of France while Kenny comfortably saw off the challenge of Germany’s Maximilian Levy.
“As soon as the semi-final was over, they came over and said ’Right guys, no favouritism here'...It was very clear they wanted it to be level and fair.”
Bradley Wiggins fell short of matching Hoy’s achievement.
The 28-year-old, who had won golds in the individual and team pursuits, looked short of his best in the Madison, in which teams of two riders tag each other into the race.
The Londoner was partnered with four-time Tour de France stage winner Mark Cavendish and on paper, they were the strongest two riders in the race.
But for Wiggins, it was a race too far and it meant Cavendish was the only member of the track squad not to win a medal.
Neither would comment afterwards but performance director Dave Brailsford said: “I think the harsh reality of it was that Brad was tired from all the events he had already done and today that showed.”