Sir Chris Hoy insists the door remains open for Jess Varnish to return to elite competition with British Cycling despite news the former Olympic sprinter is suing the national governing body and UK Sport for sex discrimination.
Press Association Sport understands Varnish took her case to an employment tribunal in Manchester on Monday, claiming she was subjected to sex discrimination, detriment for whistle-blowing, victimisation and unfair dismissal.
But British Cycling says it has remained in open dialogue with the 26-year-old and, speaking at the Track World Cup in Manchester, six-time Olympic champion Hoy said there was no barrier to her return.
“For Jess, it’s the same as any athlete, the door is open,” he said. “If you’re fast enough, the place is there.
“British Cycling have always been very clear about that. In terms of discrimination, discrimination is based on performance. If you’re quick enough, you’re in.”
Hoy has been working with British Cycling to identify new talent for the women’s programme. Through the Discover Your Power initiative, some 1,200 athletes aged 15-20 were tested and two have already been added to the senior academy set-up.
Hoy now sees signs that Britain can contend in the women’s team sprint in Tokyo in 2020, having failed to qualify in Rio.
“Why else would we be doing it?” he said. “You wouldn’t be putting these kind of resources into it if you didn’t believe it was possible.”
Hoy has also been watching the next generation of men’s sprinters come through, with Britain enjoying huge strength in depth.
Rio gold medallists Phil Hindes and Callum Skinner have both been on the Manchester track this weekend along with young trio Jack Carlin, Ryan Owens and Joseph Truman, so with Jason Kenny reversing his decision to retire, there should be a real scrap for a place on the plane to Japan.
Kenny, who matched Hoy’s British record of six Olympic golds by winning three in Rio last summer, could be the key, and Hoy is excited about him returning to competition at the end of the month.
“I think for him, it could be the best thing for him to have had that break,” the Scot said. “He needed the time away from it.
“He didn’t tell anyone he was thinking about retiring, but he was, and I think he made his mind up to stop. But then he reflected on it. To have such a tough job, to put yourself through such daily hard work, day after day, week after week, year after year… if your heart’s not in it, you can’t do it.
“He’s gone away and thought about it, he missed it and now he’s back with the most enthusiasm he’s had in years.”