BBC Sports Personality of the Year

(C) Tab59

Mo Farah become a British icon in 2012, but will he win the BBC’s award? (C) Tab59

By Cressida Smart

The BBC has revamped its shortlisting system for the Sports Personality of the Year to better reflect public opinion and avoid the sexism row that overshadowed last year’s ceremony.  Its panel of 12 experts have produced arguably the most diverse list since the inaugural award was won by Sir Christopher Chataway in 1954, the year he broke the 5,000 metres world record.

Baroness Grey-Thompson, the last Paralympian to make the shortlist in 2000, joined the panel to decide the shortlist as one of three past nominees alongside Denise Lewis and Sir Steve Redgrave.  The BBC used to canvas the opinion of sports editors at 27 newspapers and magazines but nine titles last year failed to nominate a single woman, so the public was presented with an all-male shortlist to the astonishment of equality campaigners.  The new panel includes four representatives of BBC Sport, led by its director Barbara Slater, three national newspaper sports editors, Baroness Campbell of Loughborough, the chairwoman of UK Sport, and one independent journalist (a woman).

Five of the contenders are women and three are disabled. The women include Jessica Ennis, who won the Olympic heptathlon gold medal in London and Ellie Simmonds, 18, the Paralympic swimmer who won two golds to add to the two titles she secured as a 14-year-old in Beijing, and broke her own world record.   David Weir, the wheelchair racer who captured the public imagination after covering more than 35 miles to win four gold medals in seven days, is a strong contender as the bookies’ fourth favourite. A disabled athlete has never won the award.  There have also been only 13 female winners in the history of the award, and only three since the turn of the century. The last to win was Zara Phillips, who took home the trophy in 2006 after winning gold in the World Equestrian Games.

Not surprisingly, Olympians and Paralympians dominate this year’s list, which was extended to 12 names to account for an extraordinary year of sport. The exception is Rory McIlroy, the world number one golfer who won the PGA Championship by a record eight shots.  The bookmakers are not expecting him to cut through a wave of nostalgia for London 2012, which brought the nation together in rarefied pub discussions about the rules of handball and the fairness of running blades.  McIlroy, 23, had the misfortune to win his second major on the final day of the Olympics when all eyes were on the closing ceremony.

On the one hand, you have Nicola Adams, a newcomer as far as Olympic sport is concerned.  However, she has made quite an impact during her short time in the public eye. The 30-year-old flyweight from Leeds became the first ever female Olympic boxing champion this year, overcoming Ren Cancan of China in the historic final.

At the other end of the spectrum, are Ben Ainslie and Chris Hoy.  Ainslie carried the flag at the Olympic closing ceremony after becoming the first sailor to win medals in five different Olympics after taking his fourth gold in the Finn class.  Hoy, another veteran, has already won Sports Personality of the Year once, after bringing three gold medals home from Beijing in 2008. This year, he surpassed Sir Steve Redgrave to become the most successful British Olympian ever. He added two more gold medals to his record in the team sprint and the keirin, giving him six gold and one silver overall in the Games.

Bradley Wiggins is the favourite, at odds of 2-5, to top the public vote, becoming the first Briton to win the Tour de France, then added Olympic gold in the time trial, becoming the first cyclist to do the double in the same year.

The second favourite is Mo Farah, whose 5,000 metres and 10,000 metres Olympic double renewed Britain’s love affair with distance runners.  The facial expression of Farah as he crossed the line in the 5,000m has become an iconic image of the summer Games.  This year was the most successful of the Somalia-born runner’s career and he is now one of only seven men to have won both the 5,000 and 10,000m at the Olympic Games.

Third favourite sits Andy Murray.  It has been a long wait for Murray, and there were many who claimed he would never manage it. However, the Scot proved all his doubters wrong in 2012 with a stellar year of success. After a crushing defeat at the hands of Roger Federer in the Wimbledon final, he took his revenge only weeks later in the Olympic final where he overcame the Swiss with a straight sets victory. He also teamed up with Laura Robson for a silver medal performance in the doubles and went on to claim the first Grand Slam title of his career at Flushing Meadows.

It is unfortunate for some of those on the list that this was such a stunning year for British sport.  Had Murray taken his first Slam in any other year, he could have been assured of a good shot at the trophy, much like Wiggins and his triumph in the Tour de France. Instead, they will be in contention with the superstars of the London Games.

Notable omissions include Laura Trott, who won two gold medals in the velodrome on her Olympic debut; Alistair Brownlee, who won Britain’s first triathlon gold medal; Charlotte Dujardin and Sophie Christiansen, both multiple equestrian gold medalists; Jonnie Peacock, the Paralympian sprinter who beat Oscar Pistorius to the 100 metres gold medal; and Ian Poulter, the golfer who inspired the European Ryder Cup team’s remarkable comeback against the US at Medinah.

It is a tough choice, as each nominee deserves to win.  However, it is also a strong reminder of the many reasons we have in which to celebrate British sport.  Who would I pick?  I would love to see Mo Farah or Jessica Ennis lift the title, but I feel Bradley Wiggins may pip them to the post.

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