Sports Personality of the Year: The contenders

Kieran Beckles
By Kieran Beckles

Christmas time is one of my favourite periods in sport. In November we get the Autumn Rugby Internationals; the ECB pack up there bats and travel abroad for the Winter series; and of course there are the festive football fixtures.

At the end of a hard year, nothing beats indulging in Christmas treats whilst watching the sport on TV from the comfort of your seat next to the fire. And for me, one of the highlights in December has to be the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Awards.

It’s a great opportunity to look back on an exciting year of British sport. Heroes from sports like football, motor racing, rugby, tennis, athletics, golf and boxing compete to win the coveted prize of being named Britain’s Sport Personality of the year.

And with the added bonus of 2008 being an Olympic year, we will once again get a chance to see the British stars that were made during the World’s most prestigious sporting competition. This year’s competition is set to be closely contested. It is anybody’s guess to who will take the award home and flaunt it proudly on their mantelpiece.

Let’s look at some of the athletes who became superstars throughout the course of the Olympics. First there is Chris Hoy – He won three gold medals in cycling taking his overall Olympic medal tally to 5 in total. A staggering achievement that makes him Scotland’s most successful Olympian. He also enjoys the accolade of being the most successful male cyclist ever to grace the Olympics. He missed out on the award after winning his first Gold in Athens in 2004. Ben Ainslie also triumphed for Britain in sailing at the Beijing games. The gold medal he won in the Finn event brought his tally to four Olympic medals, three of which are gold. Ainslie was first successful in the 1996 games were he won a silver medal at the tender age of 19. He was also voted 2008 World Sailor of the Year.

In the pool, one can hardly forget the beaming smile of Rebecca Adlington as she claimed her two gold medals won, in both the 400 and 800 metre freestyle events. She became the first British woman in 48 years to win a gold medal in an Olympic swimming event. She is the first British swimming champion since 1988 and the most successful British swimmer in 100 years. She broke a 19 year old world record in the final of the 800 metres. Oh, and she’s only 19.

Taking a look at the track and field events, Christine Ohuruogu claimed the Olympic title in the 400 metres which means she is the Commonwealth, World and Olympic champion at the event. There are of course more British Olympic champions that could also win the title including Nicole Cook and Bradley Wiggins.

Moving into tennis, Andy Murray has had a year to remember. His first ATP tournament win was in Doha, Qatar, where he beat Stanislas Wawrinka last January. His ranking at the time of entrance into the tournament was world number 12. He went on to win another two ATP events, in Marseille, France and St. Petersburg, Russia. For the first time in his career Murray also won an ATP Masters event beating some of the best players in the world to claim the Cincinnati Masters in August. Then merely two months after his first ATP Masters success he won the Madrid Masters.

Maybe his most memorable achievement of 2008, was reaching the U.S Open final. He enjoyed a thrilling victory over world number 1, Rafa Nadal, in the semi final (6-2,7-6,4-6,6-4). In doing so Murray became the first British male tennis player in eleven years to reach a grand slam final. Unfortunately in the final against Federer, he couldn’t recreate his stunning performance against Nadal and slumped to a straight sets defeat. However the experience of reaching a grand slam final surely will be of benefit to him in 2009.

In Formula 1, Lewis Hamilton became the youngest ever World Champion in the sport after a thrilling final race, where Hamilton only secured the title on the last lap of the race. After the disappointment of the 2007 Championship season, where he missed out on the crown of World Champion in the final race of the year, he showed the strength of character to come back and claim the top spot in Formula 1 racing. Not only known for his achievements in the sport, Hamilton is renowned as being down to earth with a balanced personality out of the sport. Considering the facts, Hamilton is a strong candidate for the award.

Joe Calzaghe, winner of the BBC Sports Personality of the Year 2007, has built upon his success of last year, and has gone from strength to strength in 2008. First he defeated the 43 year old veteran, Bernard Hopkins, in April. The result was a split decision, with two of the judges scoring in favour of Calzaghe while the final judge scoring in favour of Hopkins. In November, Calzaghe beat Roy Jones Jr. by a unanimous decision to make it 46-0. In both fights Calzaghe hit the canvas in the first round but still went on to secure victory. So after a successful year, the 36 year old Welshman finds himself in the running again for the award.

Other outside contenders could be the newly appointed England cricket captain, Kevin Pietersen. In football, John Terry provided one of the years most memorable pictures after missing his crucial penalty in the Champions League final in Moscow.

Whoever wins, the Awards ceremony is a great way to reflect on the sporting year – and to hear from the stars of the year.

With the ever reliable BBC veteran Sue Barker, and the chirpy Gary Lineker presenting the show in Liverpool on December 14th, there will surely be some funny moments. It’s a great excuse to spend a Sunday night inside, by the fire, and relive some of your favourite sporting moments of 2008.

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