There will be another public vote this weekend. On Sunday night, the BBC will announce its Sports Personality of the Year with Ben Stokes the overwhelming favourite to take the prize after a summer of cricketing heroics.
In the 65th year of the award, he is joined by five other athletes who each have strong claims themselves, after another impressive year for British sport.
Stokes, 28, is odds-on at the bookies. The England batsman decided the Cricket World Cup final in England’s favour, entering the field with the score a precarious 71 for three and leaving it only after winning the decisive ‘Super Over’. He also had an innings for the ages during the Ashes, scoring an unbeaten 135 at Headingley to win the third Test (but sadly not the series). That it came just a year after Stokes had been cleared in court following charges of affray creates a redemption story the public may find hard to resist.
Second with the bookies is the sprinter Dina Asher-Smith, whose achievements are no less jaw-dropping. At 24, she is the fastest British woman in history and the first to win a major global sprint title after she stormed to victory in the 200m at the World Athletics Championships in Qatar. She is joined on the list by Katarina Johnson-Thompson, the heptathlete, who put injuries and a lack of confidence behind her as she also claimed world championship gold, breaking Jessica Ennis-Hill’s British record in the process.
Asher-Smith said this week that she has had to embrace her new status as one of the most influential women in sport. “Being told I am a role model is something that has taken me a while to adjust to, not because I don’t like it but because I didn’t at first understand what I had to give,” she told the Mirror. “But my coach explained that it was because ‘you have the confidence to go and be yourself’. And so many people, particularly women in sport, feel they have to shape shift into what people think a sportswoman should be.”
Lewis Hamilton has the chance to win a second Spoty title after another Formula One world championship, his sixth, which he dominated from start to finish, winning 11 races and leading the drivers’ championship by 87 points. Alun Wyn Jones, meanwhile, did for his country what Stokes did for England; personally excelling in a team game as Wales secured a Six Nations grand slam and reached the semi-finals of the Rugby World Cup. Raheem Sterling completes the lineup. The Manchester City and England footballer has no less of a story to tell after a year in which he joined the top tier of world footballers and then used his platform to speak out on racism in sport and society.
The shortlist has been kept to six names for the past two years, the aim being to focus more on celebrating the year in sport during the event rather than just the achievements of individuals. It also helps reduce the risk of an embarrassing no-show too (Stokes has delayed his departure for the England tour of South Africa to attend – with all of his teammates flying out on Friday night).
The event will be hosted by Gabby Logan, Claire Balding and Gary Lineker and a total of eight awards will be announced on the night. Some will be selected by judges others, like the sporting moment of the year, have already been decided by public vote. Voting for the main prize is only possible during the live show – a tight window of less than two hours.
A celebration of the sporting year, the event will also be a celebration for Aberdeen, which will become only the second Scottish city to host the awards. It comes at a time when the city is also in the middle of an extensive regeneration effort. Sunday night’s venue will be the 10,000 seater P&J Live arena. Publicly-owned, the venue opened this summer. Tickets for this grand jamboree sold out in five minutes.
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