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. PATRICK ARDILL on why Olympic champion Eve Muirhead deserves the prize.
Ben Proud made a splash in 2022, becoming the first swimmer ever to win World, European and Commonwealth golds in the same 12-month period.
By taking home 50m freestyle glory in August at the European Championships in Rome, Proud etched his name into swimming’s history books.
He had won at the World Championships in Budapest in June, before demolishing the competition in Birmingham in a 1-2 finish with English compatriot Lewis Burras.
It was Proud’s third straight gold in the 50m freestyle, after winning in Glasgow in 2014 and Australia in 2018.
On top of this mammoth feat, he also won 50m butterfly gold at the same Games.
This spells a remarkable turnaround for the 28-year-old, who suffered Olympic heartbreak at Tokyo, finishing fifth and missing out on a podium spot by 0.15 seconds.
It came after a fourth-placed finish in Rio, which led him to leave his life in the UK behind and move to Turkey.
What is even more startling about Proud’s achievement is the ‘12-month period’ in which he claimed those three titles was condensed into just seven weeks.
Proud said: “I think I’ve found a sweet spot in my career.”
This sensational turnaround came after hitting “rock-bottom” after his loss in Tokyo, nearly pushing him to the point of leaving swimming altogether.
He said: “I went through a very tough winter and ended up hitting rock-bottom and losing relationships and losing mental health and getting to the point where I was about to walk away from the sport.”
Making changes to rediscover his love for the sport ultimately turned his career and life around.
Proud has become renowned for with his lightning-quick starts, and in Rome it was no different, quickest off the blocks to open up and hold onto his early lead, fighting off Leonardo Deplano’s late charge.
Proud is not only a resilient and determined fighter, but also one of the most polite, pleasant and respectful elite-level athletes one could hope to meet.
He said: “I have so much respect for the guys who do these back-to-back swims, the Adam Peatys, Caeleb Dressels, Sarah Sjöströms.
“To retain your titles time and time again, it’s bloody hard.”
Despite his humility, it is no doubt that Ben Proud will continue to cement his status in swimming history, alongside the sport’s greats he admires so much.