Wellington puts the boot in over sports awards
Reports by Janine Self and Philip Barker. Photographs by Steve Rowe and Bryn Lennon/Getty
Despite having moved to a venue with more room, Covent Garden’s very grand Grand Connaught Rooms, the SJA’s British Sports Awards had put up the “sold out” signs nearly a month beforehand, as the 63rd staging of the annual gala event on December 7 set out to recognise sporting excellence of 2011.
The SJA was delighted to welcome world champions such as Mark Cavendish, Kath Grainger and Anna Watkins, Dai Greene, Sarah Stevenson, Tommy Hill and Chrissie Wellington, plus Jonathan Trott and Andy Flower from the world’s No1 Test cricket team, jockey Hayley Turner, rugby’s Ieuan Evans and rugby World Cup-winner Lawrence Dallaglio, or golfer Alison Nicholas.
Rebecca Adlington, having won the world title at 800 metres freestyle, regained the Sportswoman of the Year title she had won in 2008, while the country’s sports journalists voted for another world champion, cyclist Cavendish, as their Sportsman of the Year. The Team of the Year prize was collected by batsman Trott on behalf of the Ashes-winning England cricket team.
Adlington was presented with the trophy by SJA member Anita Lonsbrough, Britain’s previous female Olympic swimming gold medallist and who had last won the sports journalists’ Sportswoman of the Year prize herself in 1962. World champion triathlete Helen Jenkins and jockey Hayley Turner, the first woman to ride the winner of a Group 1 race – which she did twice in 2011 – were runners-up to Adlington in the poll of SJA members.
Cavendish, Britain’s most successful Tour de France rider, was voted Sportsman of the Year ahead of runner Mo Farah, the 5,000 metres world champion, and U.S. Open golf champion Rory McIlroy.
England’s men’s cricket team were runaway winners in the Team of the Year category, where Europe’s Solheim Cup-winning women golfers and world champion rowers Kath Grainger and Anna Watkins were runners-up.
The SJA poll has been in existence since 1949, but the Association’s committee also makes additional awards in recognition of British sporting excellence.
This year’s recipients included two sportswomen whose achievements were considered exceptional. The Pat Besford Award for an Outstanding Performance went to Chrissie Wellington, who became Ironman Triathlon world champion for a fourth time, and who earlier in the year broke her own world record.
Wellington has made a habit of pummelling any opposition into physical and mental submission, and when she was called up to collect the Besford trophy, it was the BBC’s turn.
After receiving the elegant trophy from former swimmer Mark Foster, in a passionate speech 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, interviewed by the event’s presenter, the ever-composed Jim Rosenthal, Wellington said: “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 comparison, 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 No2 Peter Norfolk, who received the Bill McGowran Trophy, the world’s oldest annual award to recognise the achievement of an athlete with a disability. Paul Deighton, the chief executive of LOCOG, the organisers of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, made the presentation.
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, 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, she said: “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 the London Games. “I hope I qualify,” Adlington said.
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.”
Arnold had been due to attend a coaches meeting but Greene and others pulled a few strings and instead, the man who has attended every Olympics since 1968 was to be found on table 23 instead. “He saw me and asked me what I was doing here? ” said Greene, an SJA award winner himself in 2010.
After his own exploits in Daegu, Greene be under the spotlight in London but observed “pressure is a media invention”.
Alison Nicholas, captain of Europe’s Solheim Cup golf team, was awarded the Spirit of Sport Trophy (previously the UK Sport Award), presented by former Wales rugby wing Ieuan Evans.
Former badminton star Gail Emms announced golfer Tom Lewis as the winner of the Peter Wilson Trophy for best international newcomer, whose first round 65 in the Open Championship at Royal St George’s was a record score for an amateur, which Lewis backed up by being part of the GB&I Walker Cup-winning team and then turned pro, winning his third tournament.
Looking ahead to 2012
For many of the sports stars present, any review of 2011 inevitably prompts thoughts of 2012. Olympics in Sydney, Athens and Beijing had brought forth three silver medals for rower Grainger.
Now, she told John Inverdale as he toured some tables immediately before the presentations, she said she dreams of becoming the first British woman to win Olympic rowing gold and doing it in London, or at least in Eton Dorney.
“I don’t need a wallchart to count down the days,” said Grainger, the winner of the world double sculls title in the summer with Anna Watkins, part of a large contingent from British Rowing and their sponsors, Siemens.
Grainger was speaking for the whole squad when she said, “Everything is focused on the Games.
“Sydney was a great celebration of sport, Athens had its history and in Beijing everything was done to make things as good as they could be. But London has got the potential to be the greatest of all Olympic Games.”
As John Inverdale did his flit between the tables, the Mail on Sunday’s Patrick Collins spoke of his sporting highlight of the year, “Watching Barcelona winning the European Cup and playing the sort of football you’d never seen before”, noting that Sir Alex Ferguson probably felt the same.
For Owen Slot of The Times, Mo Farah’s victory in the Daegu 5,000m was “exhilarating”, the more so because he’d bounced back after disappointment in the 10,000m just a few days before.
It is in the nature of this glittering event that it provides an eclectic mix of sporting stars, with rugby players rubbing shoulders with taekwondo fighters, golfers with rowers.
Thus on table 23 SJA member Louise Poynton, the sports editor for a group of local newspapers in Surrey and Sussex, brought along as her guest British Superbike champion Tommy Hill, who was thrilled for the chance to meet another speedster on two wheels, Cavendish.
Hill, from Lingfield, won the British Superbike title by 10 inches from the American John Hopkins in a dramatic race to the chequered flag at Brands Hatch in the final race of the season, a race many regard as one of the best motorsport races ever.
“It is great to be able to meet someone like Mark, who has done so much for his sport and been recognised in this way,” said Hill.
“We are all here to win and it’s been great to hear what they have to say about their careers and share their experiences, sacrifices and setbacks to come through and win,” said Hill.
Over on table eight with our designated charity, Cancer Research UK, former high jumper Dalton Grant said that the 2011 achievements of Sportsman of the Year Mark Cavendish overshadowed all else. “But talent still has to be worked on,” he said.
Grant was delighted to reflect on London’s success in winning the right to stage the 2017 athletics world championships. “We don’t want to have a white elephant but we need to inspire the next generation. Having the Olympics here, the world’s coming to London. We can put the G back into Great Britain to show the world.”
Grant helped another former track and field champion, Derek Redmond, with the charity draw – where all the winnings were put back into the collection pot. Both admitted they would love to turn back the clock.
“If ever I could have rolled back the years to compete, I would have done here,” Grant said. “The highlight of my career was the 2002 Commonwealth Games, being able to compete in your own country and having that support.”
A few seats away could be found Gail Emms, Olympic badminton silver medallist in 2004. She is gearing up for a BBC commentary gig in 2012 and is optimistic again about British prospects for a medal .
“I have been down on badminton for the last few years because no one has been performing and I was getting a bit concerned that no one was stepping into my shoes and really going for it. Then Chris Adcock and Imogen Bankier just went ‘right we’re having this’, and ended up with a silver medal. I think the media are realising there’s more than just football, rugby and cricket out there.”
If proof of that were needed, witness Sky Sports News, who gave our awards prominent coverage, even as the goals were going in on a busy Champions League night. It really is less than eight months to the Olympics.
- In total, the SJA event managed to raise nearly £3,000 for Cancer Research UK – a particularly fitting cause as the event had opened with tributes from Sir Michael Parkinson and SJA chairman Barry Newcombe for David Welch, for many years the leading organiser of the SJA awards, who had died of cancer earlier in the year.
Full list of 2011 SJA British Sports Award-winners
Voted for by a ballot of the SJA members
1, Mark Cavendish (cycling)
2, Mo Farah (athletics)
3, Rory McIlroy (golf)
4, Alastair Cook (cricket)
5, Darren Clarke (golf)
6, Dai Greene (athletics)
7, Alistair Brownlee (triathlon)
8, Andrew Strauss (cricket)
9, Luke Donald (golf)
10, Ben Ainslie (sailing)
Voted for by a ballot of the SJA members
1, Rebecca Adlington (swimming)
2, Helen Jenkins (triathlon)
3, Hayley Turner (horse racing)
4, Jessica Ennis (athletics)
5, Keri-Anne Payne (swimming)
6, Beth Tweddle (gymnastics)
7, Sarah Stevenson (taekwondo)
8, Chrissie Wellington (triathlon)
9, Hannah England (athletics)
10, Kath Grainger (rowing)
Voted for by a ballot of SJA members
1, England men’s cricket
2, Europe Solheim Cup golf
3, Kath Grainger and Anna Watkins (rowing)
4, GB&I Walker Cup golf
5, Tom Daley and Peter Waterfield (diving)
6, Wales men’s rugby union
Spirit of Sport Award: Alison Nicholas (golf)
JL Manning Award for outstanding contribution to sport off the field of play: Malcolm Arnold (athletics coach)
Pat Besford Award for exceptional performance: Chrissie Wellington (triathlon)
Committee Award: Sarah Stevenson (taekwondo)
Bill McGowran Trophy recognising the achievements of an athlete with a disability: Peter Norfolk (wheelchair tennis)
Peter Wilson Award for international newcomer: Tom Lewis (golf)
President’s Award: Andy Flower (cricket)