Whyalla’s gold-medal winning team

Our people > 31st August, 2022
PROUD HOMECOMING: Leigh in Whyalla with parents Rene and Kristen with his gold medal. Picture: Supplied

Kristen King and Rene Hoffman have taken some well-earned holidays during their long careers at the Liberty Primary Steel Whyalla Steelworks but probably none as rewarding and exciting as their latest annual leave.

The couple took time off during July to witness their son Leigh Hoffman create history for Australia as part of the gold-medal winning Men’s Team Sprint cycling team at the Birmingham Commonwealth Games. Coming up to his 42nd year at the steelworks, Rene works in the castors sections as an operator while Kristen has clocked up 25 years and currently works as an inventory controller.

For Kristen it was an opportunity to see Leigh’s latest triumph in the flesh as she and her mother Digna King travelled to England for the Games. For Rene, working probably wasn’t an option as he watched the qualifiers at 9pm at home in Whyalla and then got up at 3am to watch Leigh and his team blitz the home-town favourite English team on their way to another Australian and Commonwealth Games record. The team also broke both records in qualifying and were coming off another win at the UCI Track Nations Cup in Glasgow.

“The noise was deafening and my whole body was shaking with emotion and the buzz of the crowd.”

Still battling jet leg and shaking with emotion when she arrived back in Whyalla, Kristen said watching Leigh grab gold for Australia in front of 7000 people was surreal. It was only matched by the experience Rene had jumping up and down in the early hours of the morning as, it seemed, the whole of Whyalla and their steelworks colleagues were up and cheering on their boy.

“Our hearts just burst we are so super proud … I’m still crying,” Kristen said.

“We were quite overwhelmed by the support we got from the community and everyone at the steelworks.

“We couldn’t reply to all the messages, there were so many and so many people that got up in the early hours of the morning in Whyalla to watch it.”

GOLDEN FEELING: Leigh and his medal. Pic: NCA NewsWire/Roy VanDerVegt

Kristen said that Leigh’s triumph, with teammates Matthew Richardson and Matthew Glaetzer, at the Commonwealth Games was a tribute to the Whyalla community’s support and the Whyalla Cycling Club where 22-year-old Leigh began his journey nearly ten years ago. Leigh’s brother Lucas is also a talented cyclist who currently rides for Adelaide-based ROKiT Racing.

Along with Leigh’s mountain of training and dedication, this high point in his career is also a nod to Rene and Kristen’s support as they clock up thousands of kilometres every year, initially taking Leigh to training in Adelaide before enrolling him in boarding school and now regularly visiting him at this South Australian Sports Institute training base in Adelaide.

“Needless to say, nana was pretty proud when we did catch up to kiss and hug him and see his medal.”

Among just a handful of Australians in the crowd at the Birmingham Games, Kristen and Digna couldn’t get to Leigh immediately after the race but caught up with him in the days that followed.

“The noise was deafening and my whole body was shaking with emotion and the buzz of the crowd,” Kristen said.

“I tried to get down to his level and was yelling out to him but he couldn’t hear me it was so loud.

“Needless to say, nana was pretty proud when we did catch up to kiss and hug him and see his medal.”

Leigh had the chance to show dad his gold medal when he returned to Whyalla mid-August and then surprised Rene by giving him the watch he received for breaking the Commonwealth Games record. Leigh is pictured (top) with Rene and Kristen on his return to Whyalla.

“I had to keep that one secret and it was a wonderful surprise for Rene,” Kristen said.

It was, however, just a flying visit for Leigh as he goes straight back into training for the October World Track Cycling Championships in France with an eye to the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris.

WINNING TEAM: Leigh (far right) with members of the Australian cycling team. Pic: NCA NewsWire/Roy VanDerVegt 

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