15 Dec 2013

Murray in pole position for Sports Personality – surely?

The BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year award is rarely won by a team player, but Wimbledon champ Andy Murray may not be a shoo-in.

Wimbledon champion Andy Murray is seen as the likely winner of the BBC's Sports Personality of the Year award.

It was always going to be a hard act to follow.

2012 was one of Britain’s greatest-ever years of sport. Our Olympians and Paralympians excelled at the London Games, Bradley Wiggins became the first Briton ever to win the Tour de France, Andy Murray won the Olympic tennis gold and the US Open – making him the first British Grand Slam winner in 76 years – Rory McIlroy won the US PGA golf title, England’s cricketers retained the Ashes and Chelsea won the Champions League.

When it came to the award for the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year (SPOTY as it’s familiarly known) there was no shortage of choice, indeed the organisers decided to increase the size of the shortlist from the usual ten names to 12 – and each of them had a genuine claim to the title.

This is a contest not won on the field or against the clock, but on the screen

Wiggins, who added his fourth Olympic gold medal to that Tour de France victory, eventually came out on top ahead of the London 2012 “poster girl” and heptathlon gold medallist Jessica Ennis, with Andy Murray third.

Among those who didn’t make the podium were the double gold medallist Mo Farah alongside arguably Britain’s greatest-ever Olympian Sir Chris Hoy (who did win in 2008), the most successful Olympic sailor of all time, Ben Ainslie, and a clutch of Olympic and Paralympic gold medallists, including two Paralympians – David Weir and Sarah Storey – who amassed no fewer than four golds each in London.

The choice – last year – was invidious. Not so much so this year.

Post-Olympic SPOTY

2013 is the 60th anniversary of the start of the competition, but the shortlist – back down to 10 names – has something of a post-2012 feel to it. The overwhelming favourite is Andy Murray, who followed up last year’s double with a single – but historic – triumph at Wimbledon.

Mo Farah gets another chance, having repeated his 5,000/10,000 metres Olympics double with similar victories in the World Athletics Championships in Moscow.

Olympics and Tour de France victor Bradley Wiggins won the award in 2012.

Hannah Cockroft, the remarkable wheelchair athlete whose two gold medals in London did not win her a place on last year’s shortlist, appears this time courtesy of a double at the IPC world championships. And Ben Ainslie – now Sir Ben – is there again after masterminding the USA crew to their America’s Cup victory.

Chris Froome, who became the second Briton ever to win the Tour de France, and Justin Rose, the first British winner of the US Open this century, will both have claims. As will Christine Ohuruogu, who improved on her London silver medal with gold in Moscow, and the 2010 Sports Personality of the Year, AP McCoy, who this year became the first jump jockey to reach a career record of 4,000 winning rides.

Completing the shortlist are two team players: Leigh Halfpenny, the man of the series for the victorious British and Irish Lions in Australia, and Ian Bell, also named man of the series as England retained the Ashes this summer.

Not for team players?

But Bell – like the rest of his cricketing colleagues – has lost some of the Ashes lustre during this winter’s less than successful tour Down Under and team players generally do not do so well in SPOTY.

Wimbledon champion Andy Murray is seen as the likely winner of the BBC's Sports Personality of the Year award.

Only five footballers have won the award in the last 59 years of the contest: Bobby Moore (in 1966 of course), Paul Gascoigne (1990), Michael Owen (1998), David Beckham (2001) and Ryan Giggs (2009).

That award for Giggs was something rather more akin to a lifetime achievement award, but it does point up the fact that some years are more notable for sporting achievements than others. The 1975 award, for example, went to the cricketer David Steele – an unlikely grey-haired, bespectacled batsmen who restored a little self-respect to an England cricket team being battered by Australia in that summer’s Ashes.

That famously garlanded British tennis player, Greg Rusedski, won in 1997 after finishing runner-up in the US Open, while Henry Cooper, who never quite managed to become world heavyweight boxing champion, won the award twice, in 1967 and 1970.

Winning heads and hearts

But then again, this is an award for a sports personality – voted for by the great British public – and “our ‘Enery” was one of the most popular sportsmen of his generation, brimming with personality and renowned for fighting on through veils of blood when the notoriously frail skin around his eyes gave way long before his spirit.

Boxer Henry Cooper was one of the most popular sportsmen of his generation.

So to 2013 and Andy Murray. But is he really the shoo-in that’s been suggested?

We should remember, perhaps, the first-ever SPOTY – back in 1954, the year that Roger Bannister broke the four-minute mile barrier. Surely there was no question who would win that one? Well, yes, there was.

The people in their wisdom chose Chris Chataway, who had been one of Bannister’s pace-makers in that historic race. Why? Because Chataway had beaten the legendary Vladimir Kuts in another race – watched on television by 12 million viewers.

More than 17 million tuned in to watch this year’s Wimbledon men’s final, so Murray won’t lose out from too few seeing his achievement. But the point holds true: this is a contest not won on the field or against the clock, but on the screen – in the heads and hearts of the TV audience.