This year’s Sport’s Personality of the Year event promises to be fascinating. Given the unprecedented success of Team GB in the Rio Olympics and Paralympics, it’s not surprising that the shortlist is dominated by some of the athletes who performances lit up the summer.
If choosing between an array of gold medallists wasn’t enough, Andy Murray also won Wimbledon and will end the year as the men’s world no.1, and Jamie Vardy represents a Leicester City team whose Premier League triumph was and probably always will be one of the greatest ever sporting stories.
I’d be staggered if the Foxes didn’t win Team of the Year. Their starting odds implied Leicester were ten times less likely to win the Premier League than England’s cricketers were to overturn a seemingly hopeless position in the 1981 Headingley Ashes Test. Perhaps 500/1 in what was effectively a three-horse race bears some comparison with 5,000/1 to finish above nineteen competitors, but Leicester’s magnificent achievement was the result of sustained excellence over an extended period and for that reason is unrivalled in my lifetime.
In a sense, that is a bit of a shame, because “my” team of the year would be the Team GB women’s hockey squad, who produced the highlight of this Olympics—and for me the most memorable British Olympic performance since Ann Packer’s 800m gold in 1964—to defeat Holland in a compelling, dramatic and emotional final.
Strangely, all the nerves I had felt during the four quarters (which were dominated by the Dutch) disappeared as soon as the final hooter sounded. The game… and the gold medal would be decided by a penalty shoot-out—and we had Maddie Hinch.
I’ve lost count of the number of times English footballers (of the highly-paid variety) have simply crumbled under this kind of pressure. These women are different; they plan and prepare meticulously, they have unshakeable belief in themselves and each other—oh, and they have Maddie Hinch.
They also had Kate Richardson-Walsh, as inspirational a leader as you will find in any contemporary British sporting team–male or female. It’s a given that she’s a fine athlete, but Kate is also courageous (viz. playing with a broken jaw at London 2012), driven, humble, and an exceptional role model….
Winning the shoot-out was genuinely no surprise to anyone who has watched this group for any length of time, and the reaction that followed Hollie Webb’s decisive goal was something I will never forget. A joyous outpouring of emotion from a squad of outstanding athletes who had overcome the desolation of a semi-final defeat four years earlier, worked unbelievably hard, sacrificed so much, and peaked at exactly the right time.
It was the perfect tournament, and the perfect end to Kate Richardson-Walsh’s stellar international career.
I would never lessen the accomplishments of any elite athlete. Simply making it to Rio was a fantastic feat, and to return home with a medal… well I can only imagine how that might feel. I salute all the Olympians and Paralympians on the shortlist, as well as those from other sports whose achievements are deservedly recognised.
For me, the choice is straightforward though: Kate Richardson-Walsh is my Sport’s Personality of the Year.
The bookies reckon she is 250/1 with Andy Murray seemingly already holding the trophy at stupid odds-on, but sometimes in sport you just never know…. “Dilly ding, dilly dong”.