I hate naysayers; those annoying, impossible to satisfy people that manage to pick fault in even the most wonderful of successes. The aftermath of the Olympics saw a whole bunch of ‘Why did we drop the baton, why do we only win sitting on our arses?’ pile of rubbish articles designed to fill up newspaper space with something ‘different’.
Seriously, just give it a rest. This has been, without doubt, one of the greatest sporting years in the history of the British Isles. Accept it.
We finished fourth, yes fourth, in the Olympics. In fact the only nations that finished above us have such unfairly large populations and resources as to render our chances of beating them nil. We annihilated the French, dominated the Australians, and destroyed the Germans. We won an astonishing 47 medals, 19 of them gold, and the sporting achievements of the kingdom hardly end there: Lewis Hamilton became the youngest ever formula one champion, Andy Murray became the most successful British tennis player since Fred Perry and Joe Calzaghe destroyed even more legends of boxing. Even the perennial disappointment that is English football team have finally started to justify their multi-million pound salaries with the best-ever start to a qualifying campaign.
All of this takes us to the BBC Spots Personality of the Year award, the end of year bash celebrating the yearly sporting success of Britain’s greatest individuals. A mere two years ago, Zara Phillips received the award nobody deserved amidst what can only be described as mass apathy. This year there will be nothing of the sort. The stack of achievements in 2008 meant that this year’s award is the most hotly contested in the award’s prestigious history.
So, with such a plethora of brilliance, who deserves to win it? The make-up of the ten strong short-list is anybody’s guess but three names are cast iron certainties to be contenders; Lewis Hamilton, Rebecca Adlington and Chris Hoy. Their achievements this year are phenomenal and all of them can claim to be the world’s greatest in their discipline.
Having come so close last year, Lewis Hamilton became the youngest ever winner of the Formula One driver’s championship on its very last corner providing some pulsating driving throughout the year to deservedly take the title. Rebecca Adlington became the most successful British swimmer for 100 years with a double gold medal performance and a world record to boot in the 800m, along with a scintillating overtake in the last 50m in the 400m race. Then we have Chris Hoy, jewel in the crown of Team GB’s star cycling team, and a triple gold medal winner in Beijing to add to his gold from Athens in 2004. Only Sir Steve Redgrave with his five golds stands above him in British Olympic history.
These three certainly are the frontrunners, a glance at any of the betting odds will confirm that, but never have those at the back of the queue been quite so brilliant. Andy Murray shook off not only his bad attitude, but his own limitations to win two masters titles and reach the US Open final, defeating all of Federer, Djokovic and even Nadal along the way. Last year’s winner, Joe Calzaghe, added another chapter to his legacy, extending his unbeaten record to an incredible 46 fights, demolishing the legends that are Bernard Hopkins and Roy Jones Junior along the way. Even Britain’s only athletics gold medal winner, and indeed world and commonwealth champion, Christine Ohurogu, is well behind with the bookies. This should be her year, but there is so much talent around that she might as well not bother turning up to the awards.
These and others will make the list; Ben Ainslie, the dominating Olympic sailor, Rebecca Romero, who won gold in Beijing despite competing in a different sport to her previous Olympic victory, and even Nicole Cooke, the first cyclist ever to be both Olympic road race and world champion simultaneously. Yet despite this none of them are even in with a realistic hope. It is a fantastic year indeed, when someone as brilliantly bonkers (not to mention talented) as David Haye, a man who rips up the rulebook to take on the most ambitious of targets and win, isn’t even being mentioned.
It would help the decision somewhat if one of the three favourites could be a jerk or a bad loser, yet none of these three come even close to that. Adlington became the nation’s darling in the summer with her girl-next-door charm, infectious smile and pride in her home town of Mansfield; Hoy is pretty much the image of down to earth humility, while Hamilton is the world media darling; charming, polite and confident without a hint of arrogance.
Yet despite there being so little to choose between the top three, Lewis Hamilton is red hot favourite to take the award. Some people, naysayers frankly, have a bigger problem with this than if anybody else were to be made favourite. They point out that he lives in Geneva to avoid tax and that his chances of victory are contingent as much on him driving a competitive car as his ability, yet they fail to appreciate quite the level of his achievement. It is one thing to have a good car, quite another to beat Fernando Alonso in it. To all in the know, Hamilton has as much talent as anyone who has graced the sport; even Senna and Schuhmacher.
What sets him apart however, in what is otherwise an Olympic year, is that he is an icon of British sport worldwide. His talent, humility and close relationship with his family are emblems recognised across the globe. In any other year, the mass of sportsmen and women sitting behind him in the betting rankings would thoroughly deserve the title. This year however, the competition is just too hot.
All of those that make the top ten short-list are trailblazers in their sport, the pride of Britain, competing at the very highest level within their discipline. and succeeding. Yet what matters most is not who takes the Sports Personality award next month, but that it could deservedly go to so many people. Forget nitpicking; sit back and celebrate a fantastic year of sport for the British Isles.