After an extremely successful year for British sport across a variety of disciplines, it is difficult to say with any certainty who will be on the shortlist in Birmingham this December, and almost as difficult to predict who will take home the prestigious trophy. Here are the likely contenders:
Jason Kenny – Winner of three gold medals at Rio 2016 in the Men’s Sprint, Team Sprint and Keirin and first in the Men’s Sprint at the Track World Championships in March, Jason Kenny is an extremely deserving name for recognition for Britain’s highest sporting honour. As Britain’s most successful competitor in Rio, Kenny has proved his superiority in the velodrome once again and was a major contributor to Britain’s record points haul. Although an extremely likeable guy, as admitted by his wife Laura Trott, Kenny can appear shy and restrained in front of a camera, and this in addition to a lack of superstar name recognition could hinder his ability to win the award outright.
Max Whitlock – Another of Britain’s star performers at Rio, Max Whitlock should not be lacking name recognition considering that he has been a standout performer worthy of SPOTY recognition since 2014. Having won 2 golds and 3 bronzes, Whitlock also claimed the single biggest number of medals by any British athlete at the Games and demonstrated his mastery of different gymnastic apparatus, including the floor and the pommel horse. Could it be third time lucky for the 23 year old from Hemel Hempstead?
Laura Trott – Part of Britain’s most successful cycling couple in the modern era, Laura Trott embossed her already burgeoning reputation in the velodrome with two gold medals in Rio, to add to the two she won in London four years ago. Add first place finishes at the Track Cycling World Championships in the Omnium and Scratch Race, coupled with the feel-good factor surrounding her recent marriage to Jason Kenny, the elements all seem to be pointing in Trott’s favour. Additionally, as an effusive and enthusiastic Harlow-native, Trott can be said to reach an audience beyond that of her competitors, appealing to a younger and more diverse audience who view her as Britain’s cycling superstar for the foreseeable future.
Mo Farah – the British public did not need reminding of our star sprinter’s ability in Rio, but he delivered it anyway, winning gold medals in both the Men’s 10,000 and 5,000 metres. Another annual SPOTY nominee, Farah is a permanently smiling face whose third place in 2011 behind Mark Cavendish and Darren Clarke shows that he has the respect of the watching public. In a packed field though, and with only two medals and a third in the Cardiff Half Marathon, even Mo’s toothy grin may have trouble convincing BBC viewers of his right to finish the night on top.
Andy Murray – not much surprise about this one following a superlative year that has seen him claim Wimbledon for the second time, a gold at Rio and a win in the final of the ATP World Tour Finals against his nemesis, Novak Djokovic, that ensured his status as Britain’s first world number-one ranked men’s tennis player. And this is a man who has already won the award twice (in 2013 and 2015) with far poorer seasons. Can he be halted? It’s unlikely, Murray has huge name recognition in the UK as Britain’s only elite-level men’s tennis player in living memory and despite his slightly prickly conversational style, his achievement registers him as a legend in the British game and a place in the public eye along with it. Also, he has a young daughter, whom BBC executives would be mad to ignore in the customary video announcing each candidate during the ceremony.
Bethany Firth – the one you may never have heard of, and yet Bethany Firth’s achievements this year match up against the very best that her competitors have to offer, returning from Brazil with three gold and two silver medals after dominating in the pool during the Paralympics. In her success, Firth has proved her prodigious talent in Backstroke, Freestyle and the Medley, and at the tender age of 20, is viewed as a real talent for the future amongst some disappointing swimming results for Team GB. However, Firth has the odds stacked against her, she is largely unknown by the public, which is not helped by her remote County Down heritage and, in an indictment of the British sporting public at present, no Paralympian has won SPOTY this Millennium. For Firth to overturn this unattractive record would be a major shock, but then 2016 has not been a year for the status quo.
Chris Froome – Another valiant competitor who deserves more recognition than he receives, Chris Froome’s 2016 involved a third Tour de France triumph in four years, overall wins at the Criterium du Dauphine and the Herald Sun Tour, 2nd place at Vuelta a Espana and a bronze medal in the Time Trial at Rio. Quite a haul. Having been on the SPOTY shortlist twice before (in 2013 and 2015), Froome has yet to claim the title, possibly down to his unfortunate ability to excel in the same years as double-winner Andy Murray. And yet, Froome is fully deserving of recognition, perhaps not first place but he should certainly be one of the top three due to his commitment and dedication in a thoroughly unyielding sport, and over such a time period. Froome is also one of only two Brits to have won the Tour de France and surely that counts for something. The other, Bradley Wiggins, won the award in 2012.
In the running:
Sophie Christiansen – Triple-gold winning equestrian at this year’s Paralympic games, Sophie Christiansen finished second only to Bethany Firth in British individuals at the event. Winning in the individual championship test and individual freestyle, both grade 1a, and the Team Championship, Christiansen was a vital component of Britain’s hugely successful Paralympic haul from Rio, although ignorance of Paralympians generally will not benefit her cause.
Hannah Cockroft – Another high-performing Paralympian from Rio, Hannah Cockroft returned to London with three gold medals in 100 metres, 400 metres and 800 metres in the T34 class. Having been nominated once before in 2013 and gaining over 26,000 votes, Cockroft is better known than some of her other Paralympian colleagues and is vocal in highlighting discrimination on the grounds of disability, this year accusing Nike and Adidas of such practices. It will be interesting to see whether this is counted in her favour by society-conscious BBC executives, or whether SPOTY regresses, choosing no disabled athletes on the shortlist for the second-year running.
Danny Willett – the first British winner of a Golf major since 2014 and the first British winner of the Masters since Nick Faldo in 1996, Willett is a bit of an enigma having never been shortlisted for SPOTY before and having been largely beyond the public consciousness until the fateful four April days in Augusta. In overhauling the dominant Jordan Spieth on the final day, Willett sealed the coveted Green Jacket and with it his first major. The Yorkshireman does however face tough competition to make the final 12 considering his late-season slump, and his brother’s intervention before this year’s unsuccessful Ryder Cup defence is unlikely to count in his favour either.
Charlotte Dujardin OBE – Double medal winner at Rio following two golds at London four years previously, it is a surprise Charlotte Dujardin has only been included on a SPOTY shortlist once before. With a grip over the discipline that has extended across five years, Dujardin is at the very height of her sport and in winning gold in the Individual Dressage and silver in the Team Dressage on Valegro in Brazil she will be remembered as one of the great dressage riders, although whether that is during her career, or after her retirement, is yet to be seen.
Adam Peaty – Another former SPOTY nominee (in 2014), Adam Peaty dominated in the pool at Rio, winning a gold in the Men’s 100 metre Breaststroke and a silver in the Men’s 4×100 metre Medley Relay. Additionally, he won this year’s Men’s 100 metre Breaststroke at the European Aquatics Championships and is widely respected and liked amongst his peers. At the age of twenty-one though, voters may see Peaty’s best years ahead of him and in such a crowded field, that could make all the difference.
Nicola Adams MBE – A SPOTY nominee in 2012 and revered as a groundbreaker in women’s boxing, Nichola Adams’ flyweight gold in Rio and dominance at the World Amateur Championship in May have to served to cement her reputation as one of Britain’s elite sportswomen. Already known to the British public due to her success at London 2012, Adams has the personality and demeanour to win over the voters, even in such a competitive field.
Ultimately, the 2016 field of sports men and women provides an extremely difficult task for the expert panel to wade through. Having said that, I think the eventual winner may already be decided, with Andy Murray the overwhelming favourite. I wouldn’t write off Mo Farah or Laura Trott though.