Looking back over previous SPOTY results in Olympic years you can pick up some interesting trends.
For instance, we Brits were obsessed with figure skating! For three consecutive Olympic cycles we rewarded our figure skaters by voting for them in our droves; John Curry (1976), Robin Cousins (1980) and Torvill & Dean (1984). Seb Coe must have been annoyed, he was runner up to figure skaters twice. I guess the subsequent Lordship and special Golden SPOTY award warmed him up a little.
Perhaps as a mirror to our Olympic struggles none of the 1988 (Steve Davis), 1992 (Nigel Mansell) or 1996 (Damon Hill) awards went to an Olympian but as things improved Steve Redgrave, Kelly Holmes, Chris Hoy and Bradley Wiggins all received the award (and knight/dame hoods!) primarily for their efforts in Sydney, Athens, Beijing and London (also in France for Wiggins) respectively.
The only Paralympian who has made the top 3 in the vote as of yet is, of course, Tanni Grey-Thompson who managed this in 2000. Mrs W reminds me that Dame Tanni is an Eaglescliffe resident (like us!) and she used to some training in Preston Park, just across the road from us.
Judging by the fact we just had our most successful Games ever, I’m guessing this year’s award will indeed to go an Olympic Champion, but in a year such as this, does the winner perhaps need further strings to their bow?
Moving into my own personal Top 10 then:
10. Nicola Adams – Boxing
Again, it seems ridiculously harsh that the incredible Nicola Adams can only make it to #10 on the list. She has won everything she can possibly win since 2012, European, Commonwealth and World Champion, until being able to successfully defend her Olympic title in 2016. So, undoubtedly the world’s best, tick, a unique achievement, well she was the first ever woman to defend an Olympic title, and the first Brit since 1908, so, tick. I think my only issue with Adams’ achievement is the depth of competition. This isn’t Adams’ fault, but the fact that she only needs to win three fights to be Olympic champion just doesn’t sit well with me, only one fight win would guarantee her a medal. Clearly there is a way to go with expanding the sport of women’s boxing, and there is no better role model than Nicola and she is a boxing superstar. She’s just up against a whole lot of other world beaters in the 2016 SPOTY list.
9. Dame Sarah Storey – Cycling
There’s nothing more that I can say about Sarah Storey that hasn’t already been said. An incredible Paralympic medal haul, 14 gold, 25 in total, over two sports, over 24 years. Sometimes athletes are rewarded in SPOTY for longevity (think Ryan Giggs, 2009, Phil Taylor and Kevin Sinfield’s 2nd place finishes in 2010 & 2015 respectively) and this is probably the last time we can honour Dame Storey in this way. Problem is, I don’t look at it that way. I am just looking at 2016 in isolation really so, is 2 Paralympic golds and 1 UPC World gold enough? Well, it’s enough for 9th out of 16 for me, and she was beaten in one of her events in Rio by…
8. Kadeena Cox – Athletics/Cycling
The new Paralympic dual sport queen. Except Kadeena won gold in one games within two sports, an exceptional achievement, and unique amongst people on this list, and I would imagine, any previous SPOTY shortlist. This is why I have her a lot higher in the order than the bookmakers odds do. Beating Dame Sarah on the indoor track was super impressive but then to back that up with a 400m gold in athletics, and be the world record holder in that event also, is special. But, as my final point on Paralympic athletes, as controversial as it may seem, the GB setup is funded ridiculously well in comparison to other countries. Our talent identification and development programmes are probably the best in the world, and our tapering and preparation going into major events has become detailed down to a tee. All of which is to say that although these athletes’ achievements are superb, they are fighting from a position of strength due to our countries’ privileged funding model and resources. Just makes it a bit easier in comparison to athletes from less well off countries or countries who don’t prioritise Paralympic sport.
7. Alistair Brownlee – Triathlon
This may be a bit of a surprise to some, Brownlee is 2nd favourite pretty much across the board with the bookmakers, but I believe that the prime reason for this is down to his “He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother” routine at the final World Triathlon Series event in Mexico. It was undoubtedly a great moment, I would have just left my brother on the side of the road (soz Chris), and it franked the Brownlee brothers’ standing in the nation’s consciousness and brought his odds in dramatically for the overall prize. Thing is, this act and its’ subsequent effect on Alistair’s chances, comes down to the “P” argument; that is, people will love that display of his “personality” and it will win him votes over athletes whose achievements from a sporting perspective may well be greater than his. That said, a successful defence of his Olympic title and two World Series wins, including one right next to my work in Leeds, represents another fantastic year, and he clearly is the best triathlete of this generation, when fully fit. I just think that when you assess the year that the six athletes below have had, they rank slightly better than Alistair’s.
6. Max Whitlock – Gymnastics
The era of British Gymnastics that we find ourselves in has no parallel in history. When Beth Tweddle came 3rd in this vote in 2006, after becoming world champion on the asymmetric bars, it may have been thought by some that it was the crowning glory of the sport. However, fast forward 10 years and we have a whole gym full of household names; Louis Smith, Becky and Ellie Downie, Claudia Fragapane, Amy Tinkler, Dan Purvis, Kristian Thomas, Nile Wilson, and, now our most successful gymnast of all time, Max Whitlock. I think that is what makes me place Max above the likes of Alistair, the fact that gymnastics has had to rise through the world’s rankings to become a real force, whereas we have always had a tradition of strong triathletes since it became an Olympic sport in 2000. We had never before won a medal in an individual all-around competition at an Olympic Games until Whitlock took bronze, never mind also winning two event golds in the same Games. Max Whitlock is a genuine world star in this most elegant and difficult of Olympic Sports, only the magnificence of Kohei Uchimura stops him from being the best in the world, and stops him from reaching the summit of this list.
Next up, the top 5!
What order would you place the remaining five in? In alphabetical order they are:
Mo Farah, Jason Kenny, Laura Kenny, Andy Murray & Adam Peaty.