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.

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The week in numbers: w/e 9/10/11

Vettel confirmed his second F1 title, the youngest driver ever to do so (image courtesy of Wikipedia)

0.009 – In seconds, the gap by which Sebastian Vettel beat Jenson Button to pole position at the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka, equivalent to an estimated 69 centimetres.

24 – Despite finishing third behind Button, at the age of 24 years 99 days Vettel nonetheless became Formula 1‘s youngest double world champion, breaking Fernando Alonso’s record from 2006 (when he was 25).

3 – Arsenal’s Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain scored all three goals in the England under-21 team’s 3-0 win in Iceland.

13Nigeria, Cameroon and Egypt all failed to qualify for the Africa Cup of Nations. They have won 13 of the previous 27 tournaments between them.

2Andy Murray won a tournament for the second straight week as he defeated Rafael Nadal in the final of the Japan Open 3-6 6-2 6-0.

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SPotY continues to appeal to the lowest common denominator

This year’s BBC Sports Personality of the Year (SPotY) awards take place on December 19th at the LG Arena in Birmingham. Over the coming weeks, we will be gently reminded about the leading contenders for the main SPotY award by the BBC, but as usual there will be a few merit-worthy candidates who are bound to miss out on the final shortlist of ten.

I will look at some of the outsiders shortly, but here is a summary of the top ten candidates for the main SPotY award according to Ladbrokes, as of yesterday:

Tony McCoy (6/5 favourite) – The dominant force in National Hunt racing for the past 15 years, the best jump jockey in the business finally won the Grand National in 2010, at his 15th attempt, piloting Don’t Push It to a five-length victory.

Graeme McDowell (9/4) – The 31-year old won his first major, the US Open, this year, as well as holding his nerve to win the critical final singles match in the Ryder Cup, securing the trophy for Europe.

Jessica Ennis (14/1) – Followed up last year’s World Athletics Championships heptathlon victory with gold medals in both the World Indoor Championships pentathlon and the European Championships heptathlon. She remains the world’s number one-ranked heptathlete.

Tom Daley (20/1) – Still only 16, Daley bagged double Commonwealth Games gold in the 10m platform individual and synchronised diving competitions, after injury denied him the chance to defend his European title.

Lee Westwood (20/1) – The new world number one was runner-up in both the US Masters and The Open, and contributed 2½ points from his four matches as Europe regained the Ryder Cup.

Phil Taylor (20/1) – The undisputed king of darts won his 15th World Championship and 11th World Matchplay title in 2010, among others. Incredibly, he has only been nominated for SPotY once before (2006).

Lewis Hamilton (25/1) – Winner of three grands prix to date in the 2010 season, and currently lies third in the drivers’ championship, 21 points behind with a maximum of 50 still available from the final two races. Has blotted his copybook with individual errors in recent races, though.

Graeme Swann (25/1) – 51 wickets in ten Tests this calendar year, including five five-fors, cementing his position as England’s primary bowling threat. Also named the ECB Cricketer of the Year, and nominated as one of Wisden‘s five Cricketers of the Year.

Amy Williams (25/1) – Gold medalist in the skeleton bob at the Vancouver Winter Olympics.

Colin Montgomerie (25/1) – Winning captain of the European Ryder Cup team.

With no Olympic Games, World Athletics Championships or World Cups in rugby union or cricket this year, and with England flopping miserably at the football World Cup, it has hardly been a banner year for UK sport. Which makes the absence of the following four sportspeople from Ladbrokes’ current top ten list all the more baffling:

Mo Farah (image courtesy of Wikipedia)

Mo Farah (33/1)

The Somali-born British long distance runner claimed gold medals in both the 5,000m and 10,000m at the European Athletics Championships. In so doing, he became the first Briton to win the European title at the longer event, and only the fifth man ever to complete the European 5,000m/10,000m double. He also won this year’s London 10,000 road race, beating 10km world record holder Micah Kogo, in a British road record time of 27:44.

In events which are still largely dominated by African runners, the 27-year old Farah is Britain’s first truly world-class track distance runner since the heady days of the early 1980s, when David Moorcroft was the 5,000m world record holder.

Farah may well sneak into the ten-strong shortlist for SPotY. He won’t get anywhere near the final three, though.

Beth Tweddle (image courtesy of Wikipedia)

Beth Tweddle (33/1)

Tweddle won her third gold medal at the World Artistic Gymnastics Championships in Rotterdam last month with a flawless performance on her favourite apparatus, the uneven bars, having triumphed in the same event in 2006 and on the floor last year.

She also repeated her double gold performance at the European Championships in Birmingham earlier in the year, duplicating her 2009 wins in the uneven bars and the floor.

The 25-year old is almost single-handedly responsible for boosting the popularity of the sport in the UK, and remains Britain’s only ever world champion gymnast. She previously placed third in the SPotY voting in 2006 behind winner Zara Phillips and Darren Clarke.

Tweddle will probably be included in the final list of ten for the SPotY ceremony. She may even get close to the final three. But she won’t win.

Mark Cavendish (image courtesy of Graham Watson)

Mark Cavendish (66/1)

It is all too easy to run out of superlatives when describing the dominant sprinter in road cycling. Winner of five stages at July’s Tour de France, he then added a further three stage wins and the green jersey (for winning the points competition) in his debut at the Vuelta a España in September. As in the previous two years, he has unquestionably been the world’s fastest finisher again this year – and this in a year where he has at times struggled for peak form.

In four years as a pro, the rider from the Isle of Man has already won an astonishing 23 stages in the three Grand Tours – including 15 at the Tour de France – not to mention the 2009 Milan-San Remo, one of the most prestigious one-day classics on the cycling calendar.

Cav is the best in the world at what he does. He has yet to make the SPotY shortlist. That is an incredible oversight which says much about how populist the selection process is.

Chrissie Wellington (image courtesy of chrissiewellington.org)

Chrissie Wellington (100/1)

33-year old Chrissie Wellington is the queen of ironman events. She is one of only three women to have won three consecutive times (2007-09) at the Ironman World Championships – and might well have won a fourth had she not had to withdraw at the last minute due to illness.

Nonetheless, Wellington remains undefeated in competition over the full ironman distance (2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike, 26.2-mile marathon run), and has won all three ironman/half-ironman events in which she has competed this year. In the past two years, she has taken 26 minutes off the women’s ironman-distance world record, lowering it to 8:19:13.

Ladbrokes rate Wellington’s chances of winning the main SPotY award at 100/1. Of course, she won’t win – like 2009 World Triathlon Champion Alistair Brownlee she probably won’t even make the shortlist – but it does seem somewhat ridiculous that a British athlete who has dominated her sport for a number of years is rated at the same odds as Audley Harrison. Go figure.

Of course, the final SPotY shortlist will almost certainly be different from Ladbrokes’ current top ten, but I fully expect the likes of Cavendish and Wellington to miss out no matter what. It’s not that I think they should necessarily win Sports Personality of the Year. But what is a terrible shame is that they will not even make the shortlist and will therefore not be exposed to a national audience, whereas other, arguably much less deserving sportspeople, will be listed simply because they compete in a high-profile sport. Does that automatically make them more worthy? Of course not.

If the BBC wants to make SPotY a true reflection of British sporting achievement – especially in a year where there has been so little of note to celebrate – then it should widen its net beyond the usual suspects and recognise the existence of Mark Cavendish and Chrissie Wellington, both of whom stand firmly on top of the world in their chosen disciplines.

You know it will never happen, though. In the meantime, I will be casting my vote for Beth Tweddle.

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