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SPotY-watch update

The final ten candidates competing for the chance to succeed Tony McCoy as BBC Sports Personality of the Year (SPotY) Awards was announced last night. The shortlist, determined by the votes of newspaper and magazine journalists, contains three golfers, no footballers and, unusually this year, no women. The winner will be announced at the ceremony at the BBC’s new MediaCityUK complex in Salford on Thursday 22nd December, but here is a quick run-down of the top ten – in descending order of the odds offered by bookmaker William Hill.

Image courtesy of Graham Watson

Mark Cavendish (6/5 favourite)

For the fourth year in a row Cavendish, the Manxman regarded as the world’s best sprinter, was dominant at the Tour de France. He won five stages – including the prestigious finale on the Champs-Élysées for the third year running – and claimed his first green jersey as the winner of the points competition. He now has 20 career victories at cycling’s most prestigious race, tied for sixth all-time. He also became Britain’s second-ever road race world champion in Copenhagen in September. The only other Briton to claim the rainbow jersey – Tom Simpson, in 1965 – was also voted BBC Sports Personality the same year, and remains the only road cyclist to have ever won the award (2008 winner Chris Hoy being a track specialist). That may well change this year.

SPotY prospects: Domination at the Tour de France over the past three years has yet to translate to a place in the top three, but becoming world champion carries meaning in anyone’s language. In a non-Olympic year with no runaway favourite, this is likely to be Cav’s only realistic chance of winning SPotY. He will certainly have the cycling world unified behind him. The bookies’ favourite – and rightly so. He will get my vote on the night.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Darren Clarke (7/4)

Won The Open Championship by three shots at his 20th attempt, giving him his first victory in one of golf’s four majors. The genial Irishman, who remains a firm public favourite, dedicated his victory to his two children and late wife Heather, who lost her battle with breast cancer in 2006. That year he was runner-up in SPotY, having said that he did not want to win because of a sympathy vote. However, at the time of writing Clarke is ranked just 38th in the world, and only the ninth-ranked British player.

SPotY prospects: A winning combination of a great sporting achievement and a human interest back-story. But the presence of three golfers in the final ten and an otherwise lacklustre 2011 may count against him.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Rory McIlroy (7/1)

After a spectacular implosion on the back nine in the final round of the Masters which saw him card a final round 80 – the worst ever of any player leading the tournament after three rounds – the 22-year old Irishman bounced back at the US Open. He led every round and finished with a 16-under par total of 268 (both tournament records) to win his first major by an astonishing eight shots. This made him the youngest US Open champion since 1923 and the youngest winner of a major since Tiger Woods in 1997. He is currently ranked second in the world, having won the Shanghai Masters to claim the richest prize in golf ($2m) last month.

SPotY prospects: Slim. Clarke is likely to dominate the golfing vote, and Donald’s presence will also deflect support away from him. May not even make the top three.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Mo Farah (8/1)

Having launched himself into the elite echelon of distance runners with gold in both the 5,000 and 10,000 metres at the 2010 European Championships, the Somalia-born Farah continued his upward trajectory in 2011. He won the 3,000 metres at the European Indoor Championships in March, and then followed that up with gold and silver at the World Championships in Daegu, South Korea. After narrowly losing out to Ethiopian Ibrahim Jeilan in his favoured event, the 10,000, he bounced back to outsprint 2007 world champion Bernard Lagat in the 5,000 to win his first global championship gold. He also recently won the Athlete of the Year award from the British Athletics Writers’ Association.

SPotY prospects: A top three contender, but unlikely to win.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Luke Donald (20/1)

Luke Donald overhauled fellow Englishman Lee Westwood to become the top-ranked golfer in the world during 2011. He is likely to finish the year as the top money-earner on both the US PGA and European tours, a testament to his consistent excellence. His four 2011 successes include victory at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, but although he finished tied-4th at the Masters and tied-8th at the US PGA he has yet to win a major.

SPotY prospects: Deserving of a place in the top ten, but has yet to produce the major victory which would catapult him to the forefront of the public’s awareness. No chance of even a top three finish.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Dai Greene (50/1)

The 25-year old Welshman added the World Championships 400 metres hurdles gold to his European and Commonwealth titles with a storming finish in Daegu. He is also the second fastest-ever British man in the event, behind Kriss Akabusi. His achievements are all the more notable for the fact that he suffers from Osgood–Schlatter disease (a condition which affects the knees) and was diagnosed as a teenager with epilepsy.

SPotY prospects: None, despite his inspirational back-story. Track-and-field voters will opt for Farah.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Alastair Cook (50/1)

Cook was the outstanding batsman in the 2010/11 Ashes series, scoring 766 runs – the second-highest total ever by an Englishman in an Ashes series – at an average of nearly 128. This summer against India, his 294 in the third Test was the highest individual score of the series and the sixth highest ever by an England batsman as England displaced India at the top of the Test world rankings. For 2011, Cook finished with 927 runs at an average of 84, and recently won the ICC’s Test Player of the Year Award. However, the Ashes victory was a long time ago and England’s only major activity since the summer was a 5-0 one-day series defeat in India, for which Cook was captain.

SPotY prospects: Unlikely to make the top three, and an almost certain winner as part of the Team of the Year.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Andy Murray (100/1)

Murray showed incredible consistency all season, being one of only two players to reach the semi-final of all four Grand Slam tournaments. He had the misfortune to face a rampant Novak Djokovic in the final of the Australian Open, then was knocked out in the semis by Rafael Nadal at the French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open. In all, Murray finished with five titles in 2011 on the back of a strong late-season run, and only Roger Federer’s triumph in the ATP World Finals last weekend knocked him out of the world’s top three at the end of the season.

SPotY prospects: Non-existent. Murray was incredibly consistent in arguably the most competitive year in men’s tennis in recent memory, but he will not win SPotY until he achieves his breakthrough maiden Grand Slam win.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Amir Khan (100/1)

Defending WBA light-welterweight champion Khan needed just five rounds to knock out IBF title holder Zab Judah in their unification fight in Las Vegas in July to improve his career record to 26-1. He is due to face mandatory challenger Lamont Peterson in Washington DC on December 10th, and victory would provide a timely boost to both Khan’s SPotY odds and his chances of stepping up a weight to challenge Floyd Mayweather in the welterweight class.

SPotY prospects: Slim. Even a spectacular stoppage of Peterson is unlikely to propel Khan further than the top five. It will require a marquee victory over a legend such as Mayweather to make him a genuine contender.

(Image courtesy of HNM_1977)

Andrew Strauss (100/1)

The dependable Strauss captained England to a dominating Ashes series win in Australia last winter and an equally memorable 4-0 whitewash of India this summer which put his side top of the Test rankings, having been just fifth 12 months before. However, 2011 has been far from Strauss’s best season with the bat, amassing just 316 runs in eight Tests at a lowly average of 29 – well down on his career average of nearly 42. England are now unbeaten in their last nine Test series, with Strauss’ record as captain now standing at 21 wins and just five defeats in 39 matches.

SPotY prospects: None. Strauss will undoubtedly finish in the bottom three in the public voting, although he will almost certainly have the consolation of being the captain of the Team of the Year.

Inequality of the sexes?

There has already been much commentary among sports fans as to the absence of any women in the final ten, but the reality is that this has been a stronger than average year for sportsmen, and arguably a sub-par one for sportswomen. Had Jessica Ennis won heptathlon gold at the World Championships, she would undoubtedly have made the shortlist, and there is also an argument in favour of other top women such as swimmers Rebecca Adlington and Keri-Anne Payne, endurance athlete Chrissie Wellington, cyclist Victoria Pendleton and rower Kath Grainger.

But with the (admittedly vague) criteria for the SPotY award being given to an athlete “whose actions have most captured the public’s imagination”, the reality is that many of our top female athletes compete in relatively minor sports, and hardly any receive enough media coverage to have the opportunity to capture the public’s imagination. The issue is not so much the views of the judging panel as the paucity of TV coverage which women’s sports enjoys.

If any female athlete should have made the final shortlist, it should surely have been Chrissie Wellington (image courtesy of chrissiewellington.org)

Equally, there are a number of top male athletes who have been excluded largely because they compete in relatively ‘minor’ sports. Had it been my personal choice, I would have excluded Strauss, Khan and Murray from the list and included Chrissie Wellington, Alistair Brownlee and Nick Matthew.

The 34-year old Wellington – dubbed the ‘Chrissinator’ – is the reigning four-time female Ironman triathlon world champion, having won the World Championships every year since 2007 except for 2010, when she had to withdraw with illness. She remains undefeated in competition over the full Ironman distance.

Brownlee, still 23, was crowned Traithlon World Champion for the second time this year. His younger brother Jonathan finished as runner-up.

Matthew has been the world’s top-ranked men’s squash player throughout 2011. He successfully defended his World Open title last month, and is the only British player to have won the British Open since 1939 (he has won twice).

If I had to pick my own personal top ten, based on a combination of objective sporting achievement and other, completely subjective factors, it would look like this:

  1. Mark Cavendish (cycling)
  2. Mo Farah (athletics)
  3. Rory McIlroy (golf)
  4. Chrissie Wellington (Ironman)
  5. Alistair Brownlee (triathlon)
  6. Luke Donald (golf)
  7. Nick Matthew (squash)
  8. Alastair Cook (cricket)
  9. Darren Clarke (golf)
  10. Dai Greene (athletics)

Other SPotY awards

In terms of the other major awards, I think we can probably safely pencil in the England Test cricket side as the Team of the Year, and Andy Flower must surely be the favourite to become Coach of the YearOverseas SPotY has gone to a tennis player in four of the past seven years and Novak Djokovic – world number one and winner of three Grand Slam singles titles in 2011 –  could well make it five out of eight, although Formula 1’s youngest ever double world champion, Sebastian Vettel, will provide stiff opposition after a season in which he set a record 15 pole positions and recorded 11 wins.

The Lifetime Achievement Award has been won by a football player or manager six of the 12 times it has been awarded, but it could genuinely go to any of a number of sportspeople – however, my bet would be Michael Schumacher. Seve Ballesteros, who won the Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009, could be posthumously given the Helen Rollason Award (for outstanding achievement in the face of adversity). There would certainly be few more popular winners. Tom Daley has won the Young SPotY award in three of the last four years. Open to anyone aged 16 or under on January 1st 2011, he is eligible for the last time this year, but I suspect it may be heading elsewhere this time around. Your guess is as good as mine on that one, though.

Incidentally, in case you’re wondering why the ceremony is taking place on such an unusual and late date this year (it is normally held on a Sunday in mid-December) it is because the three shortlisted golfers are all potentially playing in tournaments up to the 18th and would not otherwise be able to attend in person. So now you know.

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About Tim
Father of three. Bit of a geek. That's all, folks.

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