There are very few Sunday nights that I look forward to in a year, but the second Sunday in December is definitely one of them. The weather outside might be dark and murky, but inside Christmas trees will be up and fireplaces will be filled with slowly burning logs giving the room a festive feel as we settle down to an evening of the best sport of the year, a collection of the finest moments from the last 12 months.
I always vote, and least year my 14p went towards Lewis Hamilton. I expected him to win - the first British World Champion of the decade and the youngest World Champion ever, but to my surprise his name was read out in second place. Cyclist and triple Beijing gold medallist Chris Hoy (now Sir Chris Hoy) won the prestigious award, and after my initial outrage had subsided, I realised that Hoy was a more than deserving winner. He has a string of awards longer than most countries’: the most successful Olympic male cyclist, the first Briton to win three Olympic gold medals in since 1908, the most successful Scottish Olympian of all time, and all round good bloke. It is rare that in an Olympic year an Olympian doesn’t win the trophy, and Hoy’s feat was truly remarkable. At 33 he is unlikely to make the next Olympics, whereas Hamilton at 24 has many more seasons to repeat his World Championship winning year.
This year however, the favourite is undoubtedly, and almost unrivalled, Jensen Button – another F1 World Champion, he is not only an excellent sportsman, but also charismatic, winning over many fans who may have criticised him throughout his career. Button would be a more than worthy Sports Personality winner, just like he is a deserving F1 Champion. His season was fairytale-esque, from the Toyota team pulling out at the end of last year, only to be bought by Ross Brawn at the very last minute to the perfect drive in Brazil which sealed the title. The season was unpredictable to say the least, but the Englishman, with the most number of victories by three, came through to win with a race to spare.
Although Jensen is well ahead with the bookies, there are a number of other contenders, the leading two being England and Ashes-winning captain Andrew Strauss, and giant-slaying heavyweight world champion David Haye. The Ashes victory in the summer was the moment of the year, a series full of twists finally being seized by an English team that refused to give in to the class of the Australians. The faces on the defeated Aussie team on the fall of the last wicket at The Oval was a priceless moment and one to savour for all the English fans. In the last Ashes-winning year the hero of the series, Freddie Flintoff, won Sports Personality of the Year; but this series there was no out-and-out star to commend. It truly was a team performance (surely a proverbial shoe-in for Team of the Year). Strauss is the man who will take the most credit out of the series, leading from the front and taking the English underdogs to victory.
As for Haye - although many will dislike boxing, questioning its right to be a sport - those who follow it will have almost certainly watched the build up and hype surrounding the Englishman’s much anticipated bout with Russian Nikolay Valuev. Haye was favourite to win and is by far the better boxer, but being nine inches shorter and considerably lighter than his 7 foot 2 inch, 22 stone opponent, showed Haye to be the quality athlete he is. He, like Button and Strauss, is extremely popular with the fans, possessing a certain amount of ‘Englishness’ which all his supporters admire – he broke his right hand in the first 10 minutes of his fight in November, and yet came through ten more gruelling rounds to earn victory on points. No sooner had he been awarded the crown, he was eyeing up his next fight – a mandatory title defence against American John Ruiz – and then onwards to glory against one of the Klitschko brothers. Those who think that the Sports Personality trophy won’t go to a boxer because it is not all that popular, only have to think back to last year when Joe Calzaghe took the award, or 2003 when Lennox Lewis – Britain’s last heavyweight world champion – held the trophy.
The last two real spanners in the works for Button are heptathlon world champion Jessica Ennis and Manchester United legend Ryan Giggs. At just 5 foot 4 inches, half-Jamaican Ennis may not look like much, but she exceeded everybody’s expectations to take gold in Berlin and become a strong candidate for this year’s Sports Personality. She has already been named as Sports Woman of the Year by Cosmopolitan magazine, and many are tipping her for the big prize on Sunday.
In a late surge, Ryan Giggs – the first footballer on the shortlist since Steven Gerrard in 2005 – has come up into second place in the betting odds within the last week. The Manchester United stalwart has always had a huge following of fans, impressed by both his footballing ability and polite, self-deprecating, hard-working attitude off the field. At the age of 36 he is still running up and down the left wing terrorising defenders and curling free-kicks into the top corners of nets across the country. He broke the caps record for United this year, and is still going strong, already winning Welsh Sportsperson of the Year last month. He may be an outside bet for the top award, but one must remember that football has a far greater following than motorsport.
The final issue with this year’s show is the fact that it has been scheduled for the same two hours as the X-factor final, whose additional Sunday programme is a new element this year. BBC bosses were asked to move the Review to avoid this clash, but said that nothing could be done. This is a shame because both shows have huge audiences, and households are going to be split over which one takes preference. Obviously there is only one choice, and anyone who isn’t sure, you still have five days to change your mind...and make the right decision.


 ...but I think Michael Owen should win it...



Sports Personality of the Year 2009