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Worthy SPotY shortlist has one notable omission

Earlier this evening, the BBC announced its final shortlist of ten candidates for the 2010 Sports Personality of the Year (SPotY) awards, which will take place on December 19th at the LG Arena in Birmingham. While each of the ten nominees – determined by the votes of a panel of 30 sports journalists – is merit-worthy in their own right, there was one notable absentee from the list: triple world gymnastics champion Beth Tweddle.

When I previewed the likely top ten four weeks ago, based on the odds quoted by Ladbrokes at that time, the bookmaker had correctly predicted eight of the shortlist of ten. In alphabetical order, here is the final confirmed list, along with my thoughts as to their chances of winning:

Image courtesy of Graham Watson

Mark Cavendish (cycling)

Winner of five stages at July’s Tour de France, and a further three stages and the green jersey in his debut at the Vuelta a España in September. Unquestionably the world’s best sprinter for the third year in a row – 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 quite simply the best in the world at what he does.

SPotY prospects: None. Road cycling is a minority and poorly understood sport in the UK, and one which the ordinary sports fan most readily relates with doping scandals. There will be a big voting campaign among cycling fans. It will make no difference whatsoever – Cavendish will probably finish tenth.

Previous cycling SPotY winners: 2 – Tom Simpson (1965), Chris Hoy (2008).

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Tom Daley (diving)

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.

SPotY prospects: Minimal. Daley competes in a niche event, and will never make the top three in a non-Olympics year.

Previous swimming/diving SPotY winners: 2 – Ian Black (1958), Anita Lonsbrough (1962).

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Jessica Ennis (athletics)

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.

SPotY prospects: Top three. The current golden girl of British athletics, and the country’s only number-one ranked athlete in either male or female events.

Previous athletics SPotY winners: 17 – most recently Kelly Holmes (2004) and Paula Radcliffe (2002).

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

David Haye (boxing)

Haye became only the fifth British boxer to hold a world heavyweight belt after beating the giant Nikolay Valuev twelve months ago. Since then the 30-year old has made two successful defences of his WBA heavyweight title, defeating the credible challenge of John Ruiz in April and then the somewhat less credible Audley Harrison a fortnight ago.

SPotY prospects: An outside bet for the top three. Boxing currently lacks the high profile and strength in depth of the Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield eras, but Haye’s win over Harrison is timely in terms of the public vote.

Previous boxing SPotY winners: 5 – most recently Joe Calzaghe (2007) and Lennox Lewis (1999).

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

A P McCoy (horse racing)

Tony McCoy has been the dominant force in National Hunt racing for the past 15 years, and 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.

SPotY prospects: Favourite to win. McCoy is a dominant, likeable figure, and his maiden Grand National win should ensure a further triumph in the SPotY arena.

Previous horse racing SPotY winners: 0, but two third places – one of them McCoy himself in 2002.

Image courtesy of belfasttelegraph.co.uk

Graeme McDowell (golf)

The 31-year old from Northern Ireland finished second overall on the European Tour money list, won his first major, the US Open, and held his nerve to win the critical final singles match in the Ryder Cup, securing the trophy for Europe by the narrowest of margins, 14½-13½.

SPotY prospects: Possible top three. McDowell has had a fairy-tale year, and the likelihood of the European Ryder Cup squad winning the Team of the Year award may attract floating public voters on the night. Lee Westwood‘s presence in the top ten may take vital votes away, however.

Previous golf SPotY winners: 2 – Dai Rees (1957), Nick Faldo (1989).

Graeme Swann (cricket)

53 wickets in 11 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.

SPotY prospects: An outside bet for the top three. Swann is England’s main bowling weapon, and strong performances in the second and third Tests could propel him to the sharp end of the public vote.

Previous cricket SPotY winners: 4 – Jim Laker (1956), David Steele (1975), Ian Botham (1981), Andrew Flintoff (2005).

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Phil Taylor (darts)

The undisputed king of the oche for the best part of two decades, Taylor won his 15th World Championship and 11th World Matchplay title in 2010, among others. Incredibly, he has only been nominated for the main SPotY award once before (2006).

SPotY prospects: Minimal. Despite his incredible dominance of the sport, too many viewers will never vote for a darts player. It will be a miracle if Taylor gets anywhere near the top three, and he is more likely to be joining Cavendish at the bottom of the public vote.

Previous darts SPotY winners: 0 (and no top three placings either).

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Lee Westwood (golf)

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.

SPotY prospects: An outside bet for the top three. A failure to win a major and the presence of McDowell in the field means Westwood is unlikely to manage better than a top five placing.

Previous golf SPotY winners: 2 – Dai Rees (1957), Nick Faldo (1989).

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Amy Williams (skeleton bobsleigh)

Gold medalist in the skeleton bobsleigh at the Vancouver Winter Olympics, going one place better than Shelley Rudman had four years previously in Turin.

SPotY prospects: None. The Winter Olympics stand several rungs down from its summer counterpart, and are already a distant and fading memory. Many viewers will have already forgotten her name, let alone be willing to cast a vote for her.

Previous Winter Olympics SPotY winners: 3 (all skaters) – John Curry (1976), Robin Cousins (1980), Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean (1984).

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Finally, do spare a thought for the unfortunate Beth Tweddle, who won her third gold medal at the World Artistic Gymnastics Championships in Rotterdam in October with a flawless performance on 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 previously placed third in the SPotY voting in 2006 behind winner Zara Phillips and Darren Clarke. She is Britain’s only ever gymnastics world champion. Her exclusion from the shortlist is, to me, incomprehensible. It’s a real shame, because none of the final ten, for all their achievements, have been quite the trailblazer that Tweddle has been in her sport.

I fully expect McCoy to canter to victory on December 19th, to be followed home by Ennis and McDowell. But in Tweddle’s absence, I will be casting my vote – albeit largely a protest one – for Mark Cavendish. So there.

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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.

The week in numbers: w/e 1/8/10

19 – Total number of medals won by the Great Britain team (six gold, seven silver, six bronze) at the European Athletics Championships in Barcelona, one better than the previous championship best of 18 at Split in 1990.

Mo Farah

1Mo Farah‘s victory in the 10,000 metres was Britain’s first-ever gold medal in the event. It was also Farah’s first major championship title.

17.81 – Distance (in metres) jumped by Phillips Idowu to win the gold medal in the triple jump. It was a lifetime best by the British athlete.

6,823 – Total points accumulated by Jessica Ennis in winning the heptathlon, setting a new European Championships record. Ennis beat Olympic champion Nataliya Dobrynska of Ukraine into second place by just 45 points.

726 – As of Sunday, days remaining until the start of the 2012 London Olympics – July 27th was the ‘two years to go’ milestone.

James Anderson

11/71James Anderson‘s combined return in the first Test match as England defeated Pakistan by 354 runs at Trent Bridge. He took 5/54 in the first innings and followed it up with 6/17 in the second, as the visitors were dismissed for just 80.

20 – After Sunday’s Hungarian GP, the points separating Mark Webber (161 points), the Formula 1 championship leader, from Fernando Alonso in fifth (141) – less than the 25 on offer for a race win.

45 – Points difference after the first period in the AFL local derby between the Fremantle Dockers and the West Coast Eagles – 7.6 (48) vs 0.3 (3). The match finished 160-85 in favour of Fremantle.

0 – Total transfer fees paid for central defender Sol Campbell during his professional career – all his moves have come on a free transfer. He signed for Newcastle on Wednesday, having previously played for Tottenham, Arsenal, Portsmouth and Notts County before a second stint at Arsenal last season.

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