A year ago, Chrissie Wellington’s surprise victory in possibly the toughest sporting event on the planet, the Hawaii Ironman Triathlon, came too late for her to be considered for the SJA’s Sportswoman of the Year poll. This year, she retained her title in good time to attract SJA members’ votes
It wasnâ€™t supposed to happen. In its 30-year history, no pasty Briton had ever managed to cross the line of the gruelling Hawaii Ironman in first place.
Then, last year, after a 2.5-mile swim in the ocean swells of the Pacific, the 112-mile bike ride up and down the island’s volcanic mountains, followed by a full 26.2-mile marathon, all in 100-degree heat, who, after nine hours of racing, comes storming through in near-record time but Chrissie Wellington? Not only was the Brit in her rookie season as a professional, full-time triathlete, here was a woman who just a few short months earlier had been working as a Whitehall civil servant, for goodness sake.
No less an august – and American-centric – publication than Sports Illustrated proceeded to name Wellington as the 10th toughest athlete in the world â€“ just one place behind boxer Floyd Mayweather.
Suffolk-born Wellington, 31, had surprised even herself. “Even when I turned pro in February last year, never in a million years did I think I would even do an Ironman, let alone win.
“I only dared to dream when I was six kilometres from the finish line in Kona â€“ I felt strong and knew I could win.”
While Wellington’s choice of coach, the Australian Brett Sutton, remains highly controversial, the accolades have come thick and fast, including the award of the first ever Daily Mail Wooldridge Award earlier this year.
What the good folks at SI will do now that tough-as-old-boots Wellington has gone and retained her Hawaii title, can only be guessed at.
This time, there was added drama as she lost 10 minutes on the cycle stage after suffering a puncture (no highly drilled F1 or Tour de France back-up teams in this sport – she needed the help of one of her race rivals), yet she still won the race by a margin of 15 minutes from the world record-holder.
Now is the first real opportunity for SJA members to register a vote for Wellington: is she your Sportswoman of 2008?
Book your ticket for the 2008 SJA British Sports Awards – click here for the form, including the membersâ€™ price discount