SPOTY2016: My top five

This is where every athlete on this page would have won almost any other award any other year. Every one of them dominates their field. Every one of them is an Olympic champion, world champion, world #1. Separating them now becomes a matter of personal preference and taste. Let’s see if you agree with me, starting with:

5. Jason KennyCycling

kenny

The Farnworth Flame set fire to the track in Rio, burning his way up the all-time GB gold medal winning list to now sit alongside Sir Chris Hoy as our number 1 man in terms of gold medals won in Olympic Games. He dominated the sprint events for the 2nd Games running, winning 3 gold medals, much to the disdain of the rest of the world who just couldn’t understand how TeamGB cycling could turn their performance around so drastically from a series of world championship disappointments into almost a clean sweep of Olympic golds. The whys and wherefores of that debate don’t matter to Jason Kenny, or for that matter, to the voters of this award, Kenny just goes out there and powers around that velodrome faster than anyone else in the world. So yes, he is the proven best in the world, he is our greatest Olympic medal winner of all time and cycling is a worldwide sport (though some would argue slightly less so on the track than the road), so why is he only at #5? I guess a part of it lies within the fact that GB cycling are so dominant as a team, would Kenny be as successful in the French set up? Also, Kenny is a sprint specialist, not an all-rounder, though I guess you have to specialise if you are going to be the best. I am splitting hairs though, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find him higher in the actual vote.

 

4. Adam PeatySwimming

peaty

Perhaps the most surprising member of my top 5, and certainly the lowest profile. My prediction is that Adam Peaty will dominate sprint breast-stroking for close to a decade and inspire hundreds of kids to get into the swimming pool and try and emulate his achievements. If you’re still struggling to fathom how on earth I could put Peaty above some of the stellar names in this list just go back and watch the heat, semi-final and final of the 100m breaststroke from Rio…no, go on, it’s ok, I’ll wait….he smashes his own world record in the heat, almost matches it in the semi and smashes it again in the final, absolutely dismantling the field of the world’s best swimmers including his hero, defending champion and former world record holder, Cameron van der Burgh of South Africa.  That level of dominance has never been seen before from a British swimmer, he is only 21 and is still developing as an athlete. He dragged the 4×100 medley relay team through into an excellent silver medal to make him a multiple medallist from 2016 and if there was room for a 50m event then he would have won further medals.  Get ready to be seeing a lot more from this young man.  If he does continue to dominate I think he has a chance at being Sports Personality winner in the future, there’s just so much amazing competition in this year’s shortlist.

 

3. Laura KennyCycling

laura-trott

Laura Trott came into this world a month premature with a collapsed lung and asthma. Clearly, she has always been a fighter and doesn’t take no for an answer, I already feel sorry for Jason Kenny in their marriage! Her enormous power output for a petite lady is incredible and combining this with her flawless technique and that fierce competitive spirit has made her unbeatable over two Olympic Games. What puts Laura Kenny above her husband in this list for me is her all-round attributes. She won both World and Olympic omnium titles in 2016, and neither of them were ever in doubt. She combines speed and endurance, along with a sharp racing brain, to be the Queen of the velodrome. Not content with just this, she forms a key component of the Women’s Pursuit team that obliterated the world record in the Games and in doing so improved from 3rd in the world champs to a scintillating gold. She is dominant over a field of athletes from all over the world, including exceptional cyclists such as USA’s Sarah Hammer and Australia’s Annette Edmondson so can’t be accused of being a flat track bully. She became our most decorated female Olympian of all time, and guess what? She’s only 24, bring on Tokyo 2020.

 

2. Mo Farah Athletics

farah

The double double. This exceptional group of athletes are making a habit of prolonged excellence, the Kennys both managed a double double, Brownlee, Adams, Storey, Christiansen all successfully defended Olympic/Paralympic titles, but Mo Farah is making history with every race. I’m just going to put it out there, I don’t really like Mo Farah. I don’t really know why, maybe it’s because he is an Arsenal fan, but I have never really warmed to him as a personality. I’m not alone in this, I know some amateur athletes on the fringes of the circuit who feel the same way, but this in no way clouds my judgement over his achievements, as you can see.  Let us just remind ourselves of some of the more pertinent facts from 2016 here; Farah became the most gold-medalled long distance athlete of all time, passing Kenenisa Bekele’s record, he became Great Britain’s most gold-medalled track and field athlete of all time and he was the second athlete in history to complete the 5,000/10,000m double-double after the legendary Finn Lasse Viren, and he did all this despite being prostrate on the track halfway through the 10,000m final. Anybody can say what they want to about his heritage or his coaching, but this is a man who dedicates himself to running. Every day, over long distances, completing rep after rep, sacrificing his young family life, to be the best, the greatest distance runner of all time, and for this he should be acclaimed. Unfortunately for Mo, in 2016, one man just had an annus mirabilis…

 

1. Andy MurrayTennis

murray

Perhaps you are disappointed? After all, Andy Murray is the clear bookies’ favourite for the award, I work in tennis and my previous blog featured a bit of a homage of his power to inspire.  Well I apologise if you feel cheated that you have read all the way through only to find that I have been ultimately predictable, but I don’t apologise for my selection.

If Andy Murray does indeed lift the big camera into the sky in the Genting Arena, Birmingham on Sunday 18th December then he will become the only person in the history of the award to have done so for the third time. I don’t really know whether Murray would care about that or not, I’m not sure how much this award is valued by the elite sportspeople, I’m sure he would rather have his Wimbledon title, Olympic gold medal and world #1 ranking that a shiny tripod, but as a measure of his esteem amongst the British people if he was to win there can be no doubt he has come so far.

We love our tennis in the UK, take great pride in our grand slam tournament and celebrate our heroes when they come along. Unfortunately those “heroes” for years consisted of the likes of John Lloyd, Jeremy Bates, Buster Mottram and Andrew Castle (!) all of whom were British No.1, but none broke the world’s top 10. Us Brits had to applaud every first round victory at SW19 as if it was a final, whilst whispering to one another, is this the best we can do? Things improved with Rusedski and”Tiger” Tim (He of the Hill), both of whom reaching #4 in the world, and progressed regularly to the latter stages of grand slam tournaments, but without ultimate success.  The ladies’ side of the game also flattered to deceive since retirements of Wade, Barker and, latterly, Durie.

We were desperate for someone to come along and reignite our pride and deliver the success we craved.  But we really didn’t take to Andy Murray did we?? He was a dour Scot, a moaner, monotone of voice and frail of temperament. Even when he overtook Henman as UK#1, even when he beat King Roger in Cincinnati 2006 when only 19, even when he broke the top 10 at only 20 years of age, we were dubious. “He’s British when he wins, Scottish when he loses” said the mythic voice of the English gentry over their strawberries and Devonshire cream.  He certainly seemed to have the classic British choke down to a tee, losing his first four grand slam finals.

But was it in fact the last of those final defeats, on the green, green grass of home in 2012, that finally brought the young, proud Scot into our national fold? After suffering a painful defeat to Federer in four sets, Murray broke down in front of millions of us as he spoke to Sue Barker in a now infamous interview. I am not ashamed to admit (and it will surprise absolutely nobody who knows me) that I was in tears right along with him. Anyone who has poured their heart and soul into something and been defeated at the last felt so much empathy with Murray on that day and only weeks later, on the same 24m x 8m piece of hallowed turf, he proved to us all that he was a winner by taking the Olympic gold at London 2012.

4 years later and who can question his achievements. Andy Murray in 2016 has done something that no Brit ever had before and become the greatest tennis player in the world. A sport that counts 77 different nationalities from all 7 continents in the world’s top 1000 players, that is played all 52 weeks of the year (believe me, I know), with a continuous ranking system monitoring performance, and in an era with three of the Greatest Of All Time® to play against in Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic.  He retained that Olympic title in an absolute epic with Juan Martin Del Potro, he won Wimbledon for a second time, won 7 other ranking titles, won 78 ATP matches in a season and is on a 24 match winning streak. All this as well as becoming a first time father to Sophia in February, something I’m sure he would say is even more important than all of the above.

I find it difficult to see how the British public could select anyone else to be their Sports Personality of the Year 2016, but more surprising things have occurred this year!

I, for one, will vote Murray and I am looking forward to the review of what has been an incredible year for British sport.

My top 16 compared to bookmakers (correct as of 10/12/16) (Odds used are William Hill, of course!)

  1. Andy Murray (1/7, #1)
  2. Mo Farah (20/1, #3)
  3. Laura Kenny (20/1, #4)
  4. Adam Peaty (200/1, #10)
  5. Jason Kenny (80/1, #8)
  6. Max Whitlock (80/1, #9)
  7. Alistair Brownlee (8/1, #2)
  8. Kadeena Cox (200/1, #15)
  9. Dame Sarah Storey (200/1, #14)
  10. Nicola Adams (200/1, #13)
  11. Sophie Christiansen (200/1, #12)
  12. Gareth Bale (33/1, #5)
  13. Jamie Vardy (40/1, #6)
  14. Nick Skelton (50/1, #7)
  15. Kate Richardson-Walsh (200/1, #11)
  16. Danny Willett (200/1, #16)

 

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