What? No Mo? No Ellie? Well, the 2012 BBC Sports Personality of the Year vote was always going to be something of a lottery after such a cracking year. But Bradley Wiggins was the right recipient in the end.
I wasn’t impressed when I tuned in. It was all a bit too X-Factor, and surely we didn’t need the feel of some big-budget (trite) talent show. With 16,000 packed into the ExCel Arena, all that was missing was Dermot O’Leary asking inane questions.
Or perhaps we needed Mick Fleetwood and Samantha Fox presenting – for there was a worry that we might be on for a modern-day twist on that disastrous first big-production Brits awards ceremony in 1989. That wasn’t helped when I saw David Weir wheeling himself out to the strains of Michael Jackson’s Thriller. Yeah, we get it. His nickname’s the Weir Wolf. Very droll. But somehow national treasures Clare Balding, Sue Barker and Gary Lineker survived the evening in tact. No mean feat in the circumstances.
So much has happened in the world of sport these past few months that I had to remind myself Didier Drogba’s heroics in Munich helping corporate giants Chelsea to a Champions League win (can’t bring myself to call it a European Cup win – for starters, they never actually won the league the previous season) were only seven months ago. The same goes for moneybags Manchester City’s Premier League title.
After that came Euro 2012, and a plucky effort from Roy Hodgson’s unfancied England before we were undone by Pirlo and co, the Italians eventually finished off by the mighty Spain. But the biggest highlights of the year were still to come, as the Olympic and Paralympic story started to unfold. So it’s hardly surprising that of the 12 nominations for this year’s SPOTY final, only one took no active part in London 2012.
That didn’t seem to worry great golfing hope Rory McIlroy, the Hollywood hero seemingly happy to punch above his weight with the likes of fellow nominee Nicola Adams, Anthony Joshua and so on. There was also the outside chance that any anti-Olympic types might cast a few rebellious votes the Irishman’s way to make their point. It never quite happened though.
Any other year, you get the feeling Andy Murray might have nailed it – it would have been him pitted against McIlroy and the Tour de France star (occasionally) based just around the corner from me in Lancashire. I still think Wiggo might have shaded it, but even with Murray’s Olympic glory aside, there was a Grand Slam victory (finally) at the US Open to shout about, and his closest attempt yet to Wimbledon singles’ glory. What was most impressive about that final showdown though was his reaction after Roger Federer’s victory. Murray showed true humility, and maybe for the first time won over the hearts and minds of the British public accordingly. He also showed the world he had personality too, not as if that’s always been a prerequisite for winning this BBC honour.
There was a good shout for Ben Ainslie too, after such a glittering competitive career on the water and a dingy-full of Olympic medals. He might have another chance in 2013 after his assault on the America’s Cup, but either way, this Cornish sailing legend showed with his post-event ‘passion’ after an angry outburst against his Finn class rivals just how much he wants it, even if the less-cultured of us can never work out what the hell’s happening most of the time. Maybe sailing needs a re-branding exercise, with comedy noises every time a boat hits a buoy. Or something like that.
I did think Jess Ennis might stand an outside chance of beating Wiggo. For many, she was the face of London 2012, and her determination on the track (and field) left us in no doubt of her talent. still, second place is no bad thing in such a competitive year. The same goes for Ellie Simmonds, our Paralympic poster girl and aquatic supremo.
Then of course there was Mo Farah, who somehow didn’t even make the top three. Brad said he felt Farah had actually won it when David Beckham announced Ennis and Murray for second and third. As it turned out, he was fourth. Maybe the fact that he didn’t make the last three had something to do with his decision to do most of his training across the pond in America. We’r e a little insular like that. But while he didn’t win, Mo was a true inspiration, and who can forget his 5k and 10k heroics, the wall of sound he helped create, and his great reaction over the line at the Olympic Stadium. Furthermore, it provided a kick in the ‘nads for every racist ready to rail against lax immigration laws.
There’s no doubting the hard work that preceded eventual golden glory for rowing colossus Katherine Grainger, just one of the many who put themselves through the pain barrier on the water. But this time around I got the feeling Chris Hoy wasn’t in the running, despite another master show at the Velodrome – not least with Brad up against him. It was a similar dilemma for Paralympic cycling star Sarah Storey. But she also had every reason to feel proud of a top-12 nomination, as was the case for the afore-mentioned Weir.
But in the same way that Team GB got the team award – no real surprise there – it was totally fitting that Seb Coe – now officially the nation’s favourite delivery man – was saluted for his overall vision for London 2012 and so much more in his lifetime achievement award, while Dave Brailsford rightly won the coaching honour. In a year of major cheating allegations, condemnations and recriminations in cycling, DB and his team – in fact everyone involved in London 2012 – proved you can win clean, and that there remains a future for honesty in sport.
Proof if needed that sport isn’t just about high-paid sportsmen came as Fabrice Muamba presented the unsung hero award to husband and wife Sue and Jim Houghton for their work at a community sport centre in Leicestershire, while Paralympic volleyball gold medallist Martine Wright received the Helen Rollason award for outstanding achievement in the face of adversity, having lost her legs in the London 7/7 bombings.
And the earlier interview with ‘Susan’ Barker and eventual acceptance speech by Wiggo, every bit the cool customer on the night (not least with his blue suede double-breasted clobber) proved that all the hyperbole and over-the-top big production were somehow out of place. For here was a more down-to-earth sports star who looked a little embarrassed by the whole spectacle, yet played the game to perfection – taking the rise out of the hosts, giving due credit to all those who made London 2012 a winner, and thanking all those who voted, including his Nan, while at the same time subtly letting everyone know what he felt about all that public voting nonsense.
What’s more, he totally deserved his latest accolade, and I guess 492,000 public votes tells its own story. A true original, a real personality, and a sportsman to the core. Cheers Brad. You worked hard for all that, mate.