WELL. I got the top three right – just not in the right order. Right up until the moment he was announced as the runner-up, I was convinced that Lewis Hamilton would be crowned the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year.
That Chris Hoy deserves the award is beyond doubt. But I assumed, wrongly, that Hamilton’s dramatic Formula One title victory would be considered the more high-profile achievement, and so sway the vote.
Hoy’s three cycling gold medals at this summer’s Olympics – in the team sprint, the keirin and the individual sprint – put him ahead of Hamilton and swimmer Rebecca Adlington, who won two golds in Beijing.
He became the first cyclist to win the award since 1965 and, it would appear, the first winner ever inspired to take up his chosen sport as a result of watching E.T.
The triumph of Hoy is particularly special, given just how many genuine contenders there were for this year’s Sports Personality prize. All 10 of the contenders on this year’s list might have won the award in a less competitive year.
In addition to Hoy, Hamilton and Adlington, it was an outstanding 2008 for Joe Calzaghe, Nicole Cooke, Bradley Wiggins, Rebecca Romero, Christine Ohuruogu, Ben Ainslie and Andy Murray.
Wind the clock back two years, when the leading contender for a long time was David Walliams from Little Britain, who moved into the running after swimming the Channel from England to France in just over 10-and-a-half hours.
The 2006 winner, of course, was Zara Phillips. It was hard to argue with her victory, given that she was both world and European equestrian champion at the time – and was only the third rider to hold both titles simultaneously. But she didn’t have an awful lot of competition to fight off for the award.
By contrast, this year saw a genuinely exciting race for the award. I’ve had countless debates with friends over the last week as to who would win. I put the case forward for Hamilton; others made very convincing arguments for Hoy, Adlington, unbeaten boxer Calzaghe and the remarkable Romero, the former rower who became only the second woman ever to win Olympic medals in two different sports when she clinched a cycling gold in Beijing.
I would have had no complaints about any of them winning the Sports Personality award. But the British cycling team were the story of this year’s Olympics – and deserved winners of the Team of the Year prize.
So perhaps it was right after all that Hoy, the 32-year-old from Edinburgh, should win the top prize. He seemed as surprised as I was that he had beaten Hamilton. But the waves of applause for him from the audience at Liverpool’s Echo Arena were fully deserved. Well done, Chris.