Ahead of the members vote for the Sports Journalists’ Association British Sports Awards, we asked members of the SJA Academy to make their case for contenders to win sportsman, sportswoman and team of the year. GEORGE SIMMS with the case for snooker superstar Ronnie O’Sullivan.
It is often assumed of flawed geniuses that their defects will ultimately outweigh or negate their genius.
Most exist in a warped purgatory, raised to the heavens by their almost mythical potential but tethered to Earth by their inescapable humanity.
Yet for a happy few, their genius is so great, their powers so otherworldly, that their flaws lose prominence within their story, becoming much-needed colour behind the millions of words dedicated to their greatness.
Ronnie O’Sullivan’s battles with drugs, alcohol, family issues and his own mind have been well-documented.
But 30 years after turning professional, O’Sullivan won his seventh World Snooker Championship in May, equalling Stephen Hendry’s modern era record.
The oldest world champion in Crucible history, 46-year-old O’Sullivan returned to the world number one spot after the win, with Hendry saying: “There has been no one like him and probably we won’t ever see his like again. As a snooker player it is just beautiful to watch. You really appreciate what he is doing and how good he is.”
Keith Richards even called him “the Mozart of Snooker”.
He is without doubt the greatest player of his generation, if not the greatest ever to grace the Crucible.
O’Sullivan scored his first century at ten-years-old.
By 15 he had become the youngest to score a maximum 147 break.
At 17, his father, Ronnie O’Sullivan Sr, was jailed for life for murder.
And at 25, the year before he won his first World Championship, O’Sullivan checked himself into London’s famous Priory rehab clinic for the first time.
Five years later, his public battle with himself saw him impulsively shave his head mid-World Championship after collapsing to a shock quarter-final defeat.
O’Sullivan has since threatened to quit snooker more times than he, or I, could keep track of.
He even took a year off in the 2012-13 season to work on a pig farm.
And yet the unerring resilience of O’Sullivan’s brilliance has produced an unparalleled longevity at the top of his sport, surpassing Hendry’s record of 70 Crucible wins and equalling Steve Davis’ record for Crucible appearances.
Famously self-deprecating, O’Sullivan credits his resurgence and durability with his work with famed sporting psychiatrist Steve Peters, which started in 2011.
But Peters can only have helped to free the genius already shackled within O’Sullivan’s mind.
One more World Championship would place him unquestionably as the greatest player ever to pick up a cue, but on current form there is every chance he goes beyond that.
His genius, as clear today as it was on winning his first World Championship in 2001, has soared free of the flaws he now controls through running and therapy.
Few sportspeople have ever touched the lofty heights O’Sullivan, snooker’s prodigious virtuoso, continues to tread at 46.
Few ever will.