Mike Rowbottom: BBC's SPOTY has embarrassment of riches – but which way will public vote?

Saturday, 15 December 2012
Mike RowbottomNever has the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award been so super-stocked with glorious protagonists as this year.

Perhaps the best way of indicating the embarrassment of riches upon which the Great British Public will adjudicate this weekend is the following fact: In 1997, Greg Rusedski was voted BBC Sports Personality of the Year having finished runner-up in the US Open Championship; in 2012 Andy Murray, having become not just the first British male winner of a Grand Slam since 1936, but also an Olympic gold medallist at a home Games, is not favourite to win the award.

Bookmakers William Hill have Murray as merely fourth favourite to pick up the big prize at London's ExCel tomorrow at 12/1 behind  Jessica Ennis (7/1), Mo Farah (13-2) and the odds-on favourite Bradley Wiggins (2/7). Ladbrokes' odds look even less comforting for the Scotsman as Ennis's move up to second favourite with Farah at 13/2 has pushed him down to 16/1.

Glorious times indeed. (Sorry, Andy...)

Of course, the bookies are not always right. Ryan Giggs was a surprise winner in 2009 ahead of Formula 1 world champion Jenson Button and Ennis, who had won the world heptathlon title. Three years earlier Zara Phillips took the award when most people thought it was destined for golfer Darren Clarke, the 1-6 favourite.

Andy Murray of Great Britain London 2012Andy Murray defeated Roger Federer to take the London 2012 men's singles gold medal

That is the abiding fascination of the event – which way will the Great British Public jump? And if any more evidence was required of that public's variability in such matters, it has been provided this week by two surveys conducted respectively by Plusnet, the phone broadband provider, and BT.

Plusnet's study of 2,000 people to measure British pride in this year's home sporting success drew evidence that the public, while being proud of Murray (57 per cent mentioned him, seven per cent more than mentioned David Beckham) and even prouder of Wiggins (70 per cent mention) was proudest of all of Ennis, who was cited by 75 per cent of those surveyed.

(Just to make you feel better, Andy, politicians were way off the back, with just one in 10 - 11 per cent - people saying they are proud of the decision-makers in Westminster).

The BT Moments campaign, in which people were invited to vote via Twitter and the BT website, was based on the central question: What was your most memorable moment of the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics?

The response was interesting - and I'm afraid there's more bad news for you here, Andy. Neither you nor Wiggins made the top 10. The top London 2012 moment voted for was Jade Jones winning Britain's first taekwondo gold and celebrating by throwing her head-gear into the air.

Greg Searle Johnny Searle and Gary Herbert of Great Britain 1992 Barcelona GamesGreg Searle won gold with brother Johnny Searle (centre) and Gary Herbert (rigjt) of Great Britain 1992 Barcelona Games

One man who had his own personal moment to treasure from the London 2012 Games was Greg Searle, a BT Ambassador, who won the second Olympic rowing medal of his career at the age of 40, in the men's eight, two decades after winning gold in the coxed pairs along with his brother Jonny in the 1992 Barcelona Games.

But that was not the highlight for Searle.

"When I was 20, definitely the Moment would have been me winning the gold in Barcelona," he told insidethegames.

"But my Moment from London 2012 was not the winning of an Olympic bronze. It came at the Closing Ceremony when I heard Seb Coe saying that when the time came, we did it right – and I saw a banner in the crowd which said: 'Thank you London – Well Organised.'

"That was the moment when I just went 'Wow'.  It felt great to have played a part in something which affected not just me and my family and friends, but so many other people – the volunteers, the people in the stands, the people watching all over the world on TV.

"But as the BT poll shows, there were lots and lots of moments which registered during the 2012 Games. Everybody had their own different experiences from it."

Great Britain mens eight rowingSearle was one of the oldest members of the gold medal winning Great British men's eight rowing team

That said, Searle treasures the achievement of winning his second Olympic medal, even if it was not the colour he and his colleagues - who staked all on a monumental effort but ultimately unsuccessful effort to get away from the German world champions and then let Canada past them in their exhaustion -  had so desperately desired.

"I don't even like letting the words out of my mouth, but we were the second best crew behind the Germans, who had beaten us in the previous year's World Championships," Searle said.

"We gave everything on that one day to see if we could beat them, and in the end we were grateful we managed to hang on to get a medal.

"I didn't like the fact that we were half a length down on the Germans, but I was very glad we were inches ahead of the United States and the Netherlands. I knew from the 2000 Olympics, when I came fourth in the pairs with Ed Coode, the difference between getting a medal and just missing out.

Richard Egington Mohamed Sbihi and Greg Searle of Great BritainRichard Egington, Mohamed Sbihi and Greg Searle of Great Britain

"It was lovely to be at the Molesey Boat Club dinner recently and to hear my Olympic team-mate Mo Sbihi talking about his experience of winning Olympic bronze in the eight. He said that when he was given the medal he would almost love to have dropped it in the lake.

"But now it is his dearest possession. Now he realises that the chance to win an Olympic medal is not something which comes up often."

Nor indeed does the chance to win the BBC SPOTY award. And this year, even a bronze medal placing will be a matter for extreme pride.

Mike Rowbottom, one of Britain's most talented sportswriters, covered the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics as chief feature writer for insidethegames, having covered the previous five summer Games, and four winter Games, for The Independent. He has worked for the Daily Mail, The Times, The Observer, the Sunday Correspondent and The Guardian.
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