JANINE SELF reports on the 63rd annual SJA British Sports Awards, where Mark Cavendish, Rebecca Adlington and Jonathan Trott, on behalf of the England cricket team, took the leading honours and Ironman champion Chrissie Wellington made the headlines. Photographs by STEVE ROWE
The BBC never stood a chance. Chrissie Wellington has made a habit of pummelling any opposition into physical and mental submission on her way to becoming Ironman Triathlon world champion, and on Wednesday it was the Beeb’s turn.
Wellington received the Pat Besford Award for Outstanding Performance at the SJA British Sports Awards for winning her fourth Ironman title in October, as well as earlier in the year breaking her own world record.
After receiving the elegant trophy from former swimmer Mark Foster, in a passionate speech to a full house at the packed Grand Connaught Rooms in London’s Covent Garden, she confirmed that she would be boycotting the BBC Sports Personality of the Year show because of its all-male shortlist.
“I have been vocal about SPOTY because it’s symptomatic of other issues. I won’t be attending the ceremony. It would be hypocritical for me to criticise the process and then go.
“I’m making a personal stand. Awards are not about seeing my name up in lights. They are an opportunity for women to get the credit they deserve.”
Wellington conceded, though, that the BBC snub had helped to raise her own profile, prompting the debate on the coverage, of lack of it, of women’s sport. “It’s a phenomenal opportunity to promote women. Last week people would have said ‘Chrissie Who?’ At least now my name is more prominent.”
A few feet away from the stage sat Roger Mosey, the former BBC head of sport, now director of its London Olympic coverage. Next to him was Debbie Jevans, the London Games’s director of sport, who also expressed her disappointment in the SPOTY short list.
Jevans said: “I don’t understand it, looking around the room there are any number of women candidates. We’ve been talking over lunch and our discussion was open, honest and candid.”
The SJA’s regular round-the-tables interviewer, John Inverdale, who earlier in the week was confirmed as the BBC’s anchor presenter for coverage of Olympic rowing events next summer, was immediately nominated for the SJA’s new “Balls of Steel Award” when he turned to his boss, Mosey, to put him on the spot over SPOTY. “I didn’t write the shortlist,” was Mosey’s response.
On receiving the SJA award, Wellington added: “Standing here I have to pinch myself. A few years ago I was an underpaid civil servant, taking paper clips out of paper and working the photocopier. Now I’m an underpaid professional sportswoman.
“My sport is demanding, that’s why I love it. I have achieved more than I could have imagined. I feel privileged, I feel blessed.”
Wellington long ago realised that Olympic-distance triathlon is not for her – Mo Farah, for instance, wouldn’t stand much chance against Usain Bolt – but she will be a vociferous cheerleader instead for her fellow SJA award winners Mark Cavendish, Rebecca Adlington, Sarah Stevenson and Peter Norfolk.
Cavendish, the Sportsman of the Year, admitted that it was not his Tour de France stage wins which gave him most enjoyment in 2011 but winning the world road race championship with his British team mates. “The Tour de France is my day job,” the clearly delighted Manxman said after being presented with his award by SJA President Sir Michael Parkinson.
“It’s what I’m paid for. In the world championships I was racing for my national team. I pulled on the union jack jersey for pride. I was doing it to represent my country and that’s why it means so much.” Click here for video of Cavendish interviewed by Sky Sports News.
Next year’s Tour de France finishes less than a week before the Olympic road race, but Cavendish said: “It’s the first medal at the Games and it would be great to get Britain off to a good start.”
Cavendish has targeted gold in London, as has wheelchair tennis world No1 Peter Norfolk, who received the Bill McGowran Trophy, the world’s oldest annual award to recognise the achievement of an athlete with a disability.
Norfolk, a week short of his 51st birthday, said: “I love wheelchair tennis. Every time I think it’s time to stop then I think ‘no, I can still beat these buggers’. I have a target and it’s a high one – I want gold in the singles and doubles next year.
“It’s in London, the crowd support will be there,” said Norfolk, who goes by the name “the quadfather”. “It’s a lot of pressure but I say put it on my shoulders and get out there.”
Sarah Stevenson, taekwondo world champion, was presented with the SJA Committee Award for her achievement of winning her title in Korea in a year when she lost both her parents to cancer. “It’s been a year that no one would want,” Stevenson said. “To lose both parents within three months of each other was horrendous. It’s been tough. Now I want to get Christmas out of the way and 2011 left behind.”
The all-conquering England cricket team was honoured with the Team of the Year award while coach Andy Flower also picked up the President’s Award.
Flower revealed that the side have already targeted the next Ashes series in 2013 as well as the Twenty20 World Cup and the 2015 World Cup.
Flower said: “Being No 1 in the world was a motivational target but we don’t just want to hang on to it. That would be a boring way to go about our business.”
There is nothing boring about Rebecca Adlington, star of Beijing, SJA Sportswoman of the Year and who added the 800 metres freestyle world title to her crammed CV this year. Asked how it felt to be world, Olympic, Commonwealth and European champion, the Nottingham-based swimmer told Anita Lonsbrough: “I didn’t even realise I had the whole set now. It’s been amazing but I haven’t had much time to celebrate because of Olympics training.”
Extraordinarily, Adlington has yet to confirm her place in the British team for London. “I hope I qualify,” Adlington told SJA member Lonsbrough, one of her predecessors as Sportswoman of the Year, in a pre-recorded interview.
Dai Greene, short-listed for the Sportsman of the Year award, turned presenter when he announced the winner of the J L Manning Award for an outstanding contribution to sport off the field of play – his coach Malcolm Arnold. Arnold, who has been training world champion hurdlers for 40 years, looked stunned as he went to receive his award.
Greene joked: “I told Malcolm that I was giving some old man an award!”
Greene started training with Arnold less than two years ago, since when he has won European, Commonwealth and world titles. “I wasn’t a world beater when I started with Malcolm, but he brings things out of me.”
Arnold said: “I have a team remit and Dai is No1 on that list. It’s all about pressure and these guys were brought on to this earth to deal with the pressure. I should have been somewhere else today – I’ve been stitched up really.”
Alison Nicholas, captain of Europe’s Solheim Cup golf team, was awarded the Spirit of Sport Trophy, presented by former Wales rugby wing Ieuan Evans, while former badminton star Gail Emms announced golfer Tom Lewis as the winner of the Peter Wilson Trophy for best international newcomer.
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