The BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards take place in Sheffield this Sunday, with Jenson Button still the even-money favourite to win the main SPotY award (although it's interesting to note that Ryan Giggs is now 2/1 second favourite and drawing closer by the day). Usain Bolt is a shoo-in to retain Overseas SPotY. And the England cricket team that regained the Ashes the overwhelming favourite to win Team of the Year (although I would give a shout-out to the Arsenal Ladies football team, winners of the domestic treble).
It's a bit dull, really. The only real grain of doubt is whether the Welsh and Manchester United-supporting constituencies will be enough to sweep Giggs to the main award on the same wave of sentimental twaddle that brought him the PFA Player of the Year Award back in April, and has previously seen nice-guy also-rans such as Damon Hill, Tim Henman and Greg Rusedski triumph on the night despite not actually winning anything of consequence during the corresponding year.
So, to spice up what is likely to be an all too predictable evening of back-slapping and poorly-delivered one-liners, here are my alternative SPotYs; some serious, others less so.
Comeback of the Year
Lance Armstrong - After more than three years in retirement, the seven-time Tour de France winner returned to the sport at the age of 37. Despite a broken collarbone disrupting his preparations and an intra-team cold war with Astana teammate Alberto Contador, he went on to finish third behind Contador in this year's Tour, at times showing glimpses of the indomitable champion he was previously.
Kim Clijsters - Retired suddenly in 2007. Returned just as suddenly two years later, and won the US Open in fairytale circumstances in September, becoming the first wild-card champion of the event - defeating both Venus and Serena Williams en route - and the first mother to win a major since Evonne Cawley at Wimbledon in 1980.
Catriona Matthew - Won her first career major (and the first ever by a Scottish woman) at the British Open in August, just 11 weeks after giving birth to her second child.
And the winner is: Lance Armstrong. No sport is as unforgiving as cycling when it comes to exposing any physical weakness, and the Texan showed he can still stand toe-to-toe with the very best, despite giving away ten years or more in many cases.
Dick Dastardly Award for Most Evil Sportsperson in the World, Ever (Boo, Hiss)
Flavio Briatore - For ordering Nelson Piquet Jr to deliberately crash his car into a wall at the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix, engineering a safety car period which allowed Renault teammate Fernando Alonso to win. (The F1 wags say it was just about the only time Piquet Jr made an impact in his brief F1 career.)
Harlequins - The club's cynical manipulation of rugby's blood rule through the use of capsules of fake blood resulted in the departure of both director of rugby Dean Richards and chairman Charles Jillings, and gave rise to pointed questions about other unsavoury but rarely spoken about shady practices within the sport.
Thierry Henry - For single-handedly (see what I did there?) putting the integrity of football at risk - at least according to the FAI - by controlling the ball with his left hand in setting up William Gallas's decisive extra-time goal in France's World Cup playoff win against the Republic of Ireland. Robbie Keane would never have done anything so dishonest, no sirree.
Eduardo da Silva - Dived to win a penalty in a Champions League qualifier against Celtic. Arsenal's Croatian striker was retrospectively banned for two games (later overturned) and held up as the poster boy for football's cheating culture. Although, obviously, when Michael Owen does it against, say, Argentina at the World Cup finals, it is merely an example of the 'art' of 'cunning centre forward play'. There's a huge difference, of course: Owen plays for England; Eduardo doesn't.
And the winner is: Flavio Briatore. Henry and Eduardo gained unfair advantages, but did only what the vast majority of other players would also have done in their place. Harlequins were unfortunate insofar that they were the ones who got caught. Briatore's actions went way beyond all of these, conspiring to put at risk the safety of his own driver, marshals and spectators.
Sports WAG of the Year
There can be only one nominee and one winner here: Elin Nordegren, wife of Tiger Woods, who demonstrated that Tiger is not the only member of the Woods household who knows how to swing a golf club.
Victim of the Year
Again, there can only be one winner. Caster Semenya won the women's 800 metres at the World Athletics Championships in Berlin, mere hours after the IAAF informed the world that it had asked her to undergo gender verification procedures. It was the kind of baseless public humiliation that no one should ever have to experience, let alone an 18 year old preparing to compete that same evening on a global stage.
Idiot of the Year
Mike Ashley - Bought Newcastle United. Sacked Sam Allardyce and brought in Kevin Keegan and Dennis Wise. Oversaw relegation from the Premier League, and now still can't offload the club despite asking for less than a quarter of the £400m he was reportedly attempting to sell for a year ago. If ever you needed it, Ashley is living proof that success in business does not guarantee success in sport.
ITV - For accidentally cutting to a commercial break and depriving viewers of the only goal in Everton's FA Cup replay win over Liverpool, the only moment of joy in a stultifyingly dull game.
Tiger Woods - Enough said.
And the winner is: Mike Ashley. Just because.
Gone But Not Forgotten Special Recognition Award
Sir Bobby Robson, former England manager and recipient of the 2007 SPotY Lifetime Achievement Award. 1933-2009. R.I.P.
And finally ...
Really Deserves to Win SPotY But Doesn't Stand a Chance Award
Alistair Brownlee - The 21 year old did not even make the final SPotY shortlist of ten, despite becoming World Triathlon Champion (having won all five of the World Championship Series events in which he competed) in a year in which he also completed a degree in Physiology and Sport. As if that wasn't enough, he is now undertaking an MSc in Finance.
Mark Cavendish - Won six stages in the Tour de France as well as the Milan-San Remo one day classic, confirming his status as the current king of sprinting on the road. He's arguably the best there has been in a decade or more - and is the subject of a frank and highly entertaining autobiography - but nonetheless remains unknown to many, while to others he is notable for being the only member of the British track cycling team to return from Beijing last year without a medal.
Jessica Ennis - Became world heptathlon champion just a year after missing out on Beijing with a career-threatening injury, as a result of which she has had to switch her take-off leg for the long jump. Ennis has talent, personality and a movie-of-the-week heart-warming tale of overcoming adversity to boot.
Beth Tweddle - Twice a gold medallist in a sport in which she is Britain's only world champion, and which is starved of funding and often ignored by the general sporting public (and, indeed, the Prime Minister when it comes to recognising a Briton winning a world title in somewhere as remote and far-flung as, er, London). While competing under such constraints, Tweddle also studied for (and completed, in 2007) her degree, a feat requiring a degree of commitment and flexibility every bit as impressive as her difficulty-laden, world title-winning floor routine.
And the winner is: all four of them. If push came to shove, Cavendish would get my vote, but in a parallel world where SPotY was awarded based on an objective assessment of achievement rather than how many column inches a sportsperson or their sport generates, each of the above would be a thoroughly deserving winner.
Shame it - like the other awards outlined here - will never happen, eh?
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