Joe Calzaghe, the 2006 SJA Sportsman of the Year, and Paula Radcliffe, four times acclaimed by the SJA as the Sportswoman of the Year, delivered compelling claims to be named as the 2007 SJA champions with performances at the weekend.
Radcliffe, who last won the SJA Sportswoman of the Year award in 2005 (pictured, left) after she had taken the world title in the marathon, made her comeback after two years out with injury and motherhood to win Sunday’s New York City Marathon in a gripping encounter that went all the way into the final mile against Gete Wami, the Ethiopian who so often had been her nemesis in title races on the track or at cross-country.
Calzaghe (pictured right last year, alongside the 2006 Sportswoman of the Year, Zara Phillips) laid claim to being Britain’s finest boxer in Cardiff in the early hours of Sunday morning, unifying the super middleweight division with his victory over Mikkel Kessler. In a thrilling, toe-to-toe contest, the Welshman, 35, added the Dane’s WBA and WBC belts to his WBO crown.
With one eye on his place in sporting history, after his 21st title defence Calzaghe said, “I’m moving on. I’ve done everything at this weight, I’ve won all four belts,” promising to move up to light-heavyweight before retiring.
Radcliffe’s performance was front-page news with the national newspapers and saw her acclaimed by Lord Coe as “one of the biggest names in British sport of all time”.
The BBC will certainly be glad to see Radcliffe back: their gamble to take live pictures from New York, with Steve Cram and Brendan Foster offering commentary from a London studio, was rewarded with a 15% audience share on Sunday afternoon, averaging nearly 2 million viewers throughout the three-hour broadcast, and peaking at 2.9 million. That meant that Radcliffe not only beat 39,000 other runners, but she also saw off Robin Hood and Darth Vader (ITV was screening The Empire Strikes Back).
For Radcliffe, her plans now focus on next year’s Beijing Olympic Games, where she will bid to win the one title that has so far eluded her.
But both Radcliffe and Calzaghe have tough competition for the votes of SJA members in the next couple of weeks, ahead of the 59th annual SJA Sports Awards, to be staged in London on December 12.
Justin Rose, with his victory in the Volvo Masters and with it success in golf’s European Order of Merit, is another sportsman who has made a late bid for SJA acclaim.
As has Frankie Gavin, who on Sunday in Chicago became Britain’s first amateur boxing world champion, the lightweight title for the 22-year-old from Birmingham supplemented by bronze medals won by Joe Murray and Bradley Saunders.
Among the other leading contenders for the Sportsman of the Year award as well as Calzaghe is Lewis Hamilton, runner-up in the Formula 1 drivers’ championship in his rookie season, cycling world champions Chris Hoy and Bradley Wiggins, Chicago Bulls basketball star Luol Deng, for his performances in a British vest, and English rugby hero, Jonny Wilkinson.
Of those in contention for the Sportswoman of the Year award, Radcliffe’s rivals include Victoria Pendleton, winner of three cycling world titles earlier this year, world championships swimming silver medallist Kirsty Balfour, and Christine Ohurougu, the athlete who won the 400m world title.
There is also voting for the SJA Team of the Year, where England’s Rugby World Cup exploits make them strong candidates.
But only fully paid-up members of the SJA – the country’s leading sports writers, columnists, photographers, editors and broadcasters – are allowed to vote.
Time is running out to register your vote. Click here to cast your vote online.
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