Wednesday, 12 October 2016

My Sports Personality of 2016

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It is always difficult to make a case for the illustrious Sports Personality of the Year or SPOTY as it is now reduced to a hashtag in this day and age. It is even harder to nominate or make the case for someone during an Olympic year when the shortlist of 10 nominees is harder and harder to sustain.

The problem with it being only 10 nominations, they probably should extend it to a full dozen in this special year of British sporting achievement, is that the 10 nominations will be strictly limited to Olympian medallists and them alone.

While I am all for the rightful adulation of our British sportspeople, considering that 20 years ago we returned from an Olympic Games with only two rowers worthy of first class seats on the flight back. Now we have a flight full of first class seats it still remains the regular people sitting at the top table. This year you are guaranteed to see nominations for Andy Murray, Mo Farah, Bradley Wiggins and the double Tour de France winner Chris Froome, who also got a bronze medal in the Individual Mens Time Trial.

My hope is that the nominees will draw up a shortlist and the fact that we did so well in minority sports will help the exposure for those same sports. Yet you add to those first four people the names Laura Trott (two Olympic Golds this year, four in total) and her fiancee, Jason Kenny (three Gold medals, making it six in total). That makes 6 people already.

Add double Olympic Gymnastic gold medallist Max Whitlock and Britain's first swimming Olympic Gold medallist Adam Peaty and you now have 8.  So based on the BBC criteria of 10 on the shortlist that leaves just two space. Luckily it has been a bad year for football with England doing so poorly in the European championships although the unlikely tale of Leicester City may generate a nomination for Jamie Vardy, yet when was the last footballer to genuinely have a personality?

Lewis Hamilton could garner a nomination if he retains his Formula 1 crown, although his poor media relations and childish behaviour in press conferences may put a dent in that.

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Perhaps a nomination to cover the successful British sports teams, Kate Richardson-Walsh was captain of the Women's Hockey Team who won Gold on a Friday night and had the nation rapt with attention, it would be a nice nomination to commemorate her service to the sport also. Joe Root has again been England's best cricketer in all three formats of the game. A nomination for the England rugby union team perhaps in the form of Maro Itoje who was dominant throughout the Six Nations and the triumphant tour of Australia.

All valid claims I am sure you will agree and yet my nomination goes towards someone whose early calendar success was a surprise, as pleasant a surprise as Leicester City; who kept on climbing her rankings ladder with a drive and ambition rarely seen in her sport by British people and whilst she did not perform well in the Olympic games nevertheless she has maintained her form all year and is now ranked in the Top 10 of the world.  An achievement unheard of certainly for nearly 30 years in the world of British tennis.

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My nomination goes to Johanna Konta, a young woman who plays with a determination and belief in her ability that stemmed from her unlikely run to the semi-finals of the Australian Open in January.  A succession of five victories that started with her defeating Venus Williams in straight sets and ultimately succumbed to the eventual winner and now World No.1 Angelique Kerber.  This success maintained and despite poor showings at the Grand Slams at Roland Garros and Wimbledon by her now high standards, she returned again and won her first WTA title at Stanford beating Venus Williams on her home turf at the end of July.  

This led to her fourth round exit at Flushing Meadows, which again was a second week exit. Gone are the days now when British players apart from Andy Murray, turn up and leave a Grand Slam within 48 hours. Konta has eyes on making the end of season Tour Finals in Singapore, she did herself a massive favour by reaching the final of the China Open last weekend losing to Agnieszkwa Radwanska in the final. Konta sits in the 8th and final position to reach the payday week another good week in Hong Kong will do her a great help again.

Image result for johanna konta

It is her ambition to keep improving, her desire to be a good role model to younger players and the achievement of getting as far as she does despite her limitations as a smaller frame in comparison to the taller bigger players on tour such as the Williams' sisters, Kerber, Kvitova and Radwanska. These players may be stronger, but the heart Konta has shown to come this far whilst keeping her private life out of the papers and doing it always with a smile on her face speaks volumes.

The award is Sports Personality of 2016, voters should remember that 2016 is not restricted to a two week festival in Rio.  It happens all year and all year Johanna Konta has played at a level beyond our expectation of her, for that she should be rightly lauded and acclaimed.

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