OK, this is a bit parochially British as it’s the BBC’s award – but US friends might be pleased to know that Tom Brady, Katie Ledecky and Tatyana McFadden are among the candidates for the overseas award (but watch out for Roger Federer who has a very large fan base over here). No doubt Tom Brady is already losing sleep over whether or not he will win – clearly it would be the crowning glory to his career!
The 12 candidates for the main prize (presented on 17th December) are all very skilled and dedicated sports people – and certainly worthy of their places on the list (seven of them world champions or multiple world champions, such as Mo Farah, Adam Peaty, Elise Christie and Jonathan Rae). I’d love to have even a small fraction of the abilities of any of them but, with respect to the others, for me there are really 3 main contenders: Chris Froome, Lewis Hamilton and Anthony Joshua.
It’s probably worth saying that sports ‘personality’ might be a bit of a misnomer. Really it’s an achievement and popularity contest – personality is not quite as important as the award title might suggest (Andy Murray – undoubtedly a very fine tennis player – has won three times …. enough said).
Pinning my colours to the mast, I love cycling, I like F1 and I’m not really enamoured with boxing – but trying to put that personal prejudice aside, how can a sensible choice be made between them?
Hamilton is one of the best drivers of his generation – perhaps of any generation – but he has the disadvantage of being in a sport where your personal abilities are not enough, you need to have a great car. Hamilton wouldn’t have won the world title driving a McLaren, or a Renault, or a Haas this year. Equally it’s not all about the car because Bottas (a very good driver) failed to beat Hamilton on the majority of occasions, despite also having the Mercedes beneath him.
F1 has lost some of it’s competitiveness and sparkle in recent years and is perhaps too inaccessible to most fans (locations, prices and driver lifestyles) – it will even be off free-to-air TV soon in the UK so the pressure is on it as a sport.
Froome has the advantage over Hamilton that the technology in cycling does not create the clear-cut advantage that it does in F1. The Pinarello is a fine bike but there are UCI weight limits, most teams seem to use Dura Ace and I’m not sure any bike in the Grand Tours is significantly better than any other.
Froome’s double of Le Tour and the Vuelta was magnificent, and to win 4 TdFs puts him up with the very best. His difficulties in the Sports Personality competition probably include: Team Sky’s poor handling of the Therapeutic Use Exemptions matter, and the continuing stigma of doping in the sport; being part of a Sky Team that win too much for many people’s liking; Sky’s ‘marginal gains’ philosophy which is efficient but not thrilling; and the view of many that Chris himself is bland and too indebted to the strength of the team.
Joshua won the WBA world heavyweight title this year to add to his IBF title – then successfully defended them both in October. Great achievements and ones delivered in one of the hardest and most basic of environments, mano-a-mano.
The trophy is awarded after a public vote so, as I say, much depends on the individual’s popularity and the public’s interest in, and understanding of, the sport involved. I guess that probably makes Joshua the favourite – and if he was putting his case to me in person, I’m sure I’d be quick to agree ….
…. but personal prejudice and preference runs deep and it’s Chris Froome who would get my vote. With a combined six weeks of sustained pressure and extreme exertion, achieving what only two men had done before in the Vuelta/Tour double and getting to four TdF victories (with three in a row and four in five years), he has joined the all-time greats in my eyes.
Who knows, if he wins the Giro, the Vuelta and the Tour in 2018, he might get wider credit and recognition.
He might even get second place in Sports Personality 2018, as runner up to a member of the team that won the 6-a-side Ridgeway Cribbage League of 1988 …….. now, who could that be?