Youngsters could stop Strauss waltz to title

IAN COLE gives his third and final round-up of contenders for the 61st annual SJA Sports Awards. This time – the men

Two youngsters, who won the world championship in their sports for the first time in 2009, plus the leader in the Formula 1 drivers’ world championship race, now stand between England cricket captain Andrew Strauss and the title of 2009 SJA Sportsman of the Year.

Strauss will need to poll more votes from SJA members than racing driver Jenson Button, who has yet to secure his world title, and Tom Daley, diving world champion at just 15 (pictured right), and Alistair Brownlee, a 21-year-old Yorkshireman who dominated the triathlon world series with five wins this year.

Since Len Hutton won the Sportsman of the Year title in 1952, Andrew “Freddie” Flintoff, after the marvellous Ashes summer of 2005, is the only cricketer to have topped the poll of the members of the Sports Writers’ Association, more recently the Sports Journalists’ Association (Ian Botham was three times a runner-up).

Yet while two swimmers (Scots Ian Black and David Wilkie) have won the SJA’s prestigious title, the best a diver has ever managed among our members is Brian Phelps, who was runner-up in 1962. No one from triathlon, which has only been an Olympic sport since 2000, has ever figured among the top three in the SJA voting. Since both Daley and Brownlee competed in Beijing last year, neither is eligible for the SJA’s Best International Newcomer Award.

Strauss laid his claim to the title of the 61st annual SJA Sportsman of the Year when he captained the England cricket team to a momentous Ashes victory over Australia.

Strauss led by example from the top of the batting order as England completed a 2-1 series win with a 197-run victory at The Oval. He scored 474 runs in the five Tests, for an average of 52.66, and was named Player of the Series.

While Flintoff, having announced that this was to be his last Test series, was paraded as the talisman of the England team, his statistics in an injury-hampered summer suggest he is unlikely to repeat his 2005 achievement, when SJA members voted him their Sportsman of the Year.

You, the SJA members, will have the final say on the winner of this award, which dates back to 1949. Online voting forms are already available, and you can toast the winner at the 61st staging of the SJA Sports Awards, a glittering lunch, sponsored by UK Sport and Sky Bet, in London on December 9.

Until Strauss and his men gave us a glorious conclusion to the sporting summer, our Sportsman of the Year title had looked a straight fight between Andy Murray and Button. Both men may still attract votes.

Murray, despite losing a Wimbledon tennis semi-final to Andy Roddick and making an early exit from the US Open did, after all, rise to No2 in the world, the highest-placed Briton since Fred Perry in the 1930s.

Button may still win the drivers’ world championship. After winning six of the first seven races of the season to lead the standings by 23 points, Button’s Brawn GP car was stuck in reverse until a second place at Monza in the Italian GP held his lead over team mate Rubens Barrichello at 14 points with four races to go.

Book your tickets for the glittering SJA 61st annual British Sports Awards, being staged in London on December 9 – click here for details and a booking form

There are other contenders.

Ulsterman Tony McCoy, Britain’s finest jump jockey, rode his 3,000th National Hunt winner at Fontwell in February.

Phillips Idowu, for so many years the “nearly man” of international triple jumping, finally won the outdoor world title in Berlin, even earning the praise of his predecessor – and 1995 SJA Sportsman of the Year – Jonathan Edwards.

Our cyclists are up there, though perhaps not last year’s Sportsman of the Year, triple Olympic gold medallist Chris Hoy.

For 2009 was a year for the road, rather than the track, and it was Manxman Mark Cavendish who set a British record of six stage wins in the Tour de France. Bradley Wiggins finished fourth overall in this gruelling event, equalling the best ever British performance.

If the duo can be harnessed in a future Great Britain Tour team – a story that was announced by coach Dave Brailsford at an SJA working lunch last year – the potential for future success must be enormous.

Liam Tancock set a world record in winning gold in the 50 metres backstroke at swimming’s world championships, while teenager Daley, who charmed us in Beijing, won the world gold in the 10-metre platform dive.

Last, but by no means least, for an all-round sporting achievement which ought to attract some votes, how about Brownlee? He clinched the triathlon world championship on Australia’s Gold Coast this month in emphatic style (pictured on his way to the title, left).

Make your vote count — and then join us at the Awards Lunch at the Brewery, in London’s Moorgate, on December 9.

Read Ian Cole’s review of the leading candidates for the SJA Team of the Year by clicking here.

And for a listing of the top contenders for the 2009 SJA Sportswoman of the Year, click here.

SJA members can cast their votes for the Sportsman, Sportswoman and Team of the Year by clicking here.

â–¡ UK Sport is the longest standing lead sponsor of the Sports Journalists’ Association, with a partnership that goes back more than a decade. Sky Bet is the SJA’s newest partner, the sponsorship being announced in October 2008.

Both partners support the SJA’s two prestigious annual awards events, including the presentation of a special UK Sport Award for excellence at the SJA’s Annual Sports Awards and the sports betting writer of the year at the SJA’s British Sports Journalism Awards.

The SJA Annual Sports Awards are the longest established of their kind in the United Kingdom, having been first staged in 1949.

Click here for more recent articles on journalism, sport and sports journalism

Join the SJA today – click here for details and membership application form