2012. An outstanding summer of sport. A cynical friend of mine recently retorted that another failure at the Euros, a stuttering British challenge in the F1 World Championship and England’s cricketers losing their world number one ranking after an abject series against South Africa doesn’t exactly scream stunning sporting summer.
He’s correct in so much as that those three sports have disappointed – but only by the high modern standards that we’ve come to expect in recent years.
Now that the Olympic and Paralympic hysteria has died down and Scotland recovers from its post-Andy-Murray-celebration hangover, talk is rife of who will win the coveted BBC Sports Personality of the Year.
From the doldrum years of 2006 (Zara Phillips), 2009 (Ryan Giggs) and 2010 (AP McCoy), we are now blessed with a veritable plethora of sports greats to pick from in 2012.
Below is my top ten, in order…
10. Rory McIllroy
The Northern Irish golfing prodigy has come of age in 2012, dominating a sport begging for a true force since the demise of Tiger Woods. The Woods-esque style of McIlroy’s US PGA win was as emphatic as his first major a year earlier at the US Open. His ascent to the World Number One slot has been meteoric, but his comfort in the position has been even more startling, winning three US PGA tournaments in four starts over the summer and (fingers crossed) a pivotal anchor in Europe’s Ryder Cup success in Medina.
9. Sir Chris Hoy
What do you give the man who has everything? Appetite and hunger in sport separate the great from the legendary. Sir Chris Hoy ascended into the latter at London 2012. Exceeding Sir Steve Redgrave’s medal haul of 6, Hoy is the personification of hard work and humility rolled into one big friendly Scottish giant. Rather than sulk at losing the right to defend his sprint crown to Jason Kenny (who won it), Hoy got his head down and blasted to victory in the Kerin and Team Sprint. The tears on the podium and humble hug with Redgrave post ceremony demonstrated a true champion. His hunger? Still burning if Glasgow 2014 is anything to go by.
8. Alastair Brownlee
Dealing with the pressure and expectation of winning gold isn’t easy. Pre-race favourite Alastair Brownlee has been the indestructible force in Triathlon for years and the manner and emotion of this year’s Olympic gold in Hyde Park represents everything sport is about. In arguably the most gruelling sport, Brownlee, along with brother Johnny, had the target on their backs. With every other competitor refusing to play ball (a la Cavendish in the road race), he rose above the hysteria and tactics to complete the fairy-tale. Clambering on his knees after the finish line showed you how much effort it takes to win gold and it’s an inspiration after years of spearheading an otherwise unrecognised global sport.
7. Laura Trott
At just 20 years of age, Trott has the cycling world at her feet. Two Olympic gold medals and a double world champion, Trott is the typical girl next door type. Cheeky Essex accent, grounded upbringing, friendly persona yet with steely determination and raw power to match the best in the business. The manner in which she triumphed in the omnium, needing to finish 3 places better than her rival and doing so with the last pedal, was a storybook conclusion to her Olympic tale. And whilst Hoy, Pendleton and Kenny may have grabbed more column inches, her quiet, efficient style could see her dominate cycling n Pendleton-esque fashion in years to come. Early bet for 2016 SPOTY anybody?
6. Andy Murray
At last. 2:54 am on Tuesday 11th September. He did it. 76 years of unwanted mentions of the name Fred Perry cast aside thanks to Novak Djokovic’s over-exuberant, swishing forehand. Murray has long been tipped for major success by the sport’s great and good but all too often body or mind deserted him at the crucial moment. Not anymore. The new improved Andy Murray ascended to the top of the sport in 2012, pushing the “Top 3” closer than ever before, crushing Federer to win Olympic gold, combining with Laura Robson to take a silver later that day and finally ridding the proverbial primate outlasting the fastest and strongest hard court player in the game to win the US Open.
5. Sarah Storey
One of the iconic smiles of the London 2012 Paralympic games, Storey’s versatility in winning gold on the velodrome’s boards and on Brands Hatch’s tarmac is almost unprecedented. Most Olympians and Paralympians focus on one discipline. Storey is not most Paralympians. The dominance of her individual pursuit victory nearly lifted the pringle shaped roof off the velodrome, whilst storming to both time trial and road race victories put her in the pantheon of all time British Paralympic greats.
4. Jessica Ennis
The poster girl for the Games, Ennis couldn’t not win gold at London 2012. With more weight on her sculpted shoulders than perhaps any other British athlete at the Games, Jennis responded by running the fastest ever 100m hurdles time by a heptathlete and never looked back. Breaking personal bests along the way, Ennis kept the field at arm’s length during two energy sapping and media scrutinised days. With the silverware already assured by her last event, the 800m, people could forgive her for lapping up those 2 laps. She promptly destroyed 8 of the best athletes on the planet and stormed home in style. She won by a whopping 327 points. You’re not meant to win an Olympics by so much. Her grace and smile captured the hearts of the nation.
3. David Weir
Weir was the Mo Farah of the Paralympics. The stand out athlete. The name on everybody’s lips. Hope and expectation laden on his broad shoulders. And at the end? A multiple Paralympic champion who gave 80,000 people the biggest excuse to roar. He lit up the Olympic stadium brighter than the well hidden flame itself. Tactically perfect across long distances, a marked man who had no allies. All came to unsettle him. None succeeded. By triumphing on the final day, winning ParalympicsGB’s last gold at London 2012, he demonstrated longevity, stamina and a lionheart that typified a very British games. His four golds tip him up the list because athletes are notoriously more revered and famous in Olympic and Paralympic circles at least. And for a career spanning three Paralympics, a place in the top three is the mark of a man who has the right to be mentioned in the same wheel tracks as Dame Tanni Grey Thompson, who herself came third in the BBC vote in 2000.
2. Mo Farah
Mo Farah did London 2012 his way. From the crushing disappointment of 5th in Beijing 2008, Farah took the decision to uproot his family and move to Oregon and the tutelage of Alberto Salazar. Months spent training in the African hills, away from the family he holds so dear, paid dividends in 2012. Already a world champion, Farah upset the Kenyan and Ethiopian dominance in a distance they notoriously thrived. For once the hunted and not the hunter, Farah paced his races to perfection, willed on not just by the Olympic Stadium, but by millions across the nation. The final piece of Super Saturday’s jigsaw, having seen Greg Rutherford and Jess Ennis parade the Union Jack around their shoulders, failure was inconceivable. To deliver with that pressure and the African onslaught completed the slow rise of a man who has achieved greatness where no Briton has before trodden.
1. Bradley Wiggins
The winner of Sports Personality of the Year should have personality for one. They should also be the best at the world in their field. They should be inspirational and transcend their own sport, attracting new blood. Bradley Wiggins ticks all of those boxes. He achieved something no other Briton has achieved in 2012. Winning the Critérium du Dauphiné, the Paris-Nice and le Tour de Romandie made him overwhelming favourite for the Tour de France. And how he delivered. He held onto the yellow jersey for an astonishing two weeks, flat batting every attack with a devastating demonstration of speed and endurance. Composed in the mountains, destructive in the time trials, Wiggins is the complete cyclist beyond compare. The ultimate team man, he led out Mark Cavendish to the final sprint on the Champs Elysses rather than soak in the achievement of becoming the first Brit ever to win cycling’s premier showpiece. Not having time to bask in glory, a week later he strapped on his cleats to complete a glorious time trial victory and etch his name firmly as one of the most decorated Olympians of all time. His sideburns became a cult hit, his Paul Weller inspired style revered country wide. His dedication unparalleled. His blasé attitude to press conferences refreshing. Getting the French to like him… well that’s unheard of…
Thursday, 13th September 2012