When Lance Armstrong won his record-breaking seventh Tour de France championship in 2005, Chris Hong was playing the violin, not giving a moment’s thought to cycling. Now, four years later in Hong’s senior year at Harvard, his stringed instruments have been pushed to the wayside for handlebars and a saddle, and cycling has become his new, and favorite, tune.
In a sport where it typically takes several years to reach a competitive level, Hong has made amazing progress since he started riding during his senior year at Gilman High School in Baltimore, Md.
As Hong’s mentor and high school teacher, Rick Norton, explains, “In cycling, unlike in other sports, you make only incremental gains each year you train. It takes a special kind of discipline to continue training once you encounter difficulties, reach a plateau in your improvement, or when the gain you make is much smaller than the amount of work you put into it.”
Anna McLoon, one of Hong’s training partners and a Harvard graduate student, continues, “I think the things that have helped Chris develop so quickly in the sport are the things that really set any athlete apart. Chris is innately good at figuring out what his goals are both long-term and short-term, what he needs to do week by week and year by year to get to there...It’s that combination of good goal setting, flexibility, and tenacity that sets Chris apart.”
Perhaps the most impressive thing about Hong’s success is that, as McLoon puts it, “his natural body-type isn’t exactly one that screams out at you ‘elite cyclist.’”
With a 5’6, 115-pound frame, the senior describes himself as “smaller than most small cyclists.” But this is a point of motivation rather than frustration for him.
“That’s the beauty of cycling,” Hong says. “People of all different body types can still do well. I found my strength and niche as a climber and am just focusing on that to hopefully become one of the best climbers in the country.”
“Chris is a smaller guy...but he really latched on to cycling as an outlet to be one of the absolute best,” Norton adds. “So he has the determination to do every kind of race and is good in every kind, despite his body type.”
This determination propelled Hong to spend the summer riding with a professional team based in Utah, Bob’s Bicycles, whose mission statement is to provide elite cyclists with a platform to pursue their cycling goals and to develop a sense of teamwork and communication.
The rigorous cycling program blended perfectly with Hong’s impeccable work ethic.
“Chris is one of those guys that you simply can’t exaggerate how hard you want him to train, because he’ll train that hard and more, to the point of being overworked,” Norton comments, laughing a little. “Sometimes Chris almost works too hard. His biggest gain will be made when he learns how to rest a little.”
But for Hong, this characteristic is one he feels he shares with many of his peers.
“I think [a strong work ethic] is pretty true with all Harvard students, and is a trait of most serious cyclists in general,” Hong says. “In both cases, you’re almost required to be a little obsessive-compulsive with studying and training. You learn that if you have to get something done in cycling or in school work, sometimes you just have to suck it up and do it.”
With an attitude like this, it’s no wonder that Hong is a success both on and off the race track. With plans to go to medical school and to continue cycling competitively, the senior has learned quickly how to manage his time.
“[Chris] isn’t one to dabble around in half a dozen clubs and groups, but has picked what is the most important to him and has attacked it with laser focus,” McLoon says. “He is flexible enough to balance the science and sport...to do sports physiology projects for credit and to complete cycling workouts.”