Written by Steven Downes. Photography by Steve Rowe
Rebecca Adlington and Chris Hoy took the main honours, but it was a spry 88-year-old from another Olympic era who stole the show at the 60th anniversary SJA British Sports Awards in London at the end of November.
Dorothy Tyler was among many special guests from the past 60 years of the Sports Writers’, lately the Sports Journalists’ Association, including HRH The Princess Royal, Baroness Campbell, chair of UK Sport, Lord Coe from LOCOG and more former champions and medallists than have been assembled in a very long time.
When Tyler was winning her two Olympic high jump silver medals, at the notorious 1936 Berlin Games and then in London 12 years later, women were not even invited to the SWA’s awards, first staged in 1949. So by way of a very belated acknowledgement of her achievements, Tyler was presented with the SJA Committee Award by Dame Kelly Holmes, who then led the near-500 lunch guests in an impromptu chorus of “Happy Birthday” for Tyler’s husband of 62 years, Richard, who was using the occasion to celebrate his 92nd birthday.
But it was when interviewed by John Inverdale, who toured the tables between courses to meet and greet some of the all-time sporting greats, that Tyler let loose.
She expressed her opinion that the vast majority of high jumpers of the past 40 years – including their vanguard, Dick Fosbury, the American who developed the head-first, backward arching technique, known ever since as the “Fosbury Flop” – were in fact “cheats”. “You can’t go over the bar head first,” Tyler told guests to gasps of amused astonishment. “It’s cheating.”
Fosbury, invited to the event by SJA member David Miller, took the comments in good grace, explaining how he’d developed the technique in competition leading to the 1968 Olympics. Dame Mary Peters, pentathlon gold medallist in 1972, confided to those on her table that she would never have won in Munich if she had not been able to use the Flop technique.
In a year when Manchester United won their third European Cup, Wales took the Six Nations title and Grand Slam, Joe Calzaghe won his 46th pro fight and Lewis Hamilton his first F1 world title, it was the Olympians and Paralympians who dominated the 2008 awards, the cyclists particularly.
As well as triple gold medallist Hoy taking the Sportsman of the Year award, Nicole Cooke – for a third year voted in the top three for Sportswoman of the Year – was presented by Mark Foster with the Pat Besford Trophy for the Performance of the Year in winning the Olympic road race title, Rebecca Romero won the sponsors’ UK Sport Award for her achievement in winning track cycling gold four years after taking a rowing silver medal, Darren Kenny won the Disabled Sports Personality of the Year and Best International Newcomer was the sprint cyclist Jason Kenny.
Presaging the presentation of UK Sport’s award, the organisation’s chair, Sue Campbell, paid tribute to the sports journalists who had covered the achievements of the Olympic team. “We would like to congratulate the SJA on their 60th anniversary and thank their members for their continued support and excellent coverage of the fantastic achievements of our Olympic and Paralympic athletes.”
All the cyclists were later summoned back on stage, together with 2007 Sportswoman of the Year and Olympic sprint gold medal-winner Victoria Pendleton, and performance director Dave Brailsford, to collect the Team of the Year Award.
“My job’s easy,” Brailsford said, “when you’re working with this sort of incredible talent.”
Sir Michael Parkinson presents rowers Tom James and Peter Reed (right) with the SJA President’s Award
The cyclists certainly set the pace for the rest of Britain’s Olympic medallists. Peter Reed, who with coxless four crewmate Tom James collected the SJA President’s Award from Sir Michael Parkinson, spoke of the awe, inspiration and confidence that watching Cooke’s gold-medal ride on the first weekend of the Games had given him and others in the Olympic team.
“Thank you very much, Nicole,” Reed said. A sentiment everyone in the room endorsed.
The SJA’s sponsors, UK Sport and Sky Bet, were both well represented, the former providing 2012 Lottery scratchcards for all guests, the latter giving everyone a free �10 bet, as well as a �500 charity bet which, if successful this weekend, will benefit the British Heart Foundation by a significant amount.
John Inverdale went around the tables to interview the great and the good – and Terry O’Connor, chairman of the Association in 1961
The occasion was also a tremendous opportunity for old friends to get together and catch up, and to recognise the work of many past SJA officers, with all past chairmen invited, including Terry O’Connor, chairman in 1961, the SJA’s oldest surviving chairman, David Emery, Trevor Bond and David Hunn, as well as former secretary Alan Hughes. Alan Smith, the outgoing chairman of the British Equestrian Writers’ Association, and his wife Madeleine, were also among the guests.
Simon Clegg, the outgoing British Olympic Association chief executive and Britain’s chef de mission at seven Olympic Games, was given the JL Manning Award for his Outstanding Contribution to Sport – past winners of which have included Tony Jacklin, Ian McGeechan, Sir Bobby Charlton, Clive Woodward and Dave Brailsford.
Perhaps a sign of the changing times in the SJA’s history, while male winner Hoy was away taking a well-deserved holiday, double gold medal-winner Adlington’s presentation was made early in the proceedings, rather than as the climax: the teenaged swimmer needed to leave the awards early: she had a training session back in the pool in Mansfield.
*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 are the SJA’s newest partners, 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.
Full list of 2008 SJA Sports Award winners
- Sportsman: Chris Hoy (cycling). Runners-up: Lewis Hamilton (motor racing) and Ben Ainslie (sailing)
- Sportswoman: Rebecca Adlington (swimming). Runners-up: Nicole Cooke (cycling) and Christine Ohuruogu (athletics)
- Team: Great Britain cycling. Runners-up: Manchester United and Wales rugby union.
- President’s Award: Great Britain Coxless Four (Tom James, Steve Williams, Peter Reed, Andrew Hodge)
- UK Sport Award: Rebecca Romero (cycling)
- JL Manning Award for outstanding contribution to sport: Simon Clegg
- Pat Besford Award for exceptional performance: Nicole Cooke
- Committee Award: Dorothy Tyler
- Bill McGowran Trophy for disabled sport: Darren Kenny (cycling)
- Peter Wilson Award for international newcomer: Jason Kenny (cycling)