By Martha Kelner The Guardian
Athlete pips Superbikes world champion Jonathan Rea and Paralympian Jonnie Peacock
Sir Mo Farah was named the winner of the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year award on Sunday night as the presenters Gary Lineker and Gabby Logan struggled to cope with the shock result and a broken video link.
Farah’s own coach was caught on camera uttering a disbelieving expletive after the four-time Olympic champion was announced as winner of the prize.
Farah had been a 50-to-one outsider with bookmakers to win the prestigious award, with the boxer Anthony Joshua considered the overwhelming favourite. When former Liverpool FC player and manager Kenny Dalglish announced he had triumphed in the public vote, Farah’s new coach Gary Lough turned to his wife Paula Radcliffe and exclaimed: “That’s a ******* joke.”
Lineker and Logan had to cope with the failure of the video link to London at the crucial moment, meaning that viewers did not hear Farah’s reaction.
The 34-year-old did not attend the event, but conducted a live interview from St Mary’s University in Twickenham during the show. His daughter sat alongside him, helping to take care of Farah’s two-year-old son who was suffering from a vomiting bug. At one point, she picked up her irritable brother and rushed from the room to howls of laughter from the studio audience.
Joshua, a three-time heavyweight world title belt holder, attended the ceremony alongside 10,000 others and had been widely expected to triumph. But he was 18 votes short of the podium, finishing behind Paralympic sprinter Jonnie Peacock and Superbikes rider Jonathan Rea.
When the video link was re-established, Farah did not disguise his surprise that he had won with 83,524 votes to Rea’s 80,567. “I am pretty amazed,” he said. “There are such great people on the shortlist from Anthony Joshua to Lewis Hamilton and Jonnie Peacock.
“I do wish I was there I wish I was giving back to people. My son and twin daughters have been sick. In fact, while I was in the room my son was throwing up everywhere. I owe it to the public and people who supported me and voted [for] me. I can’t stop staring at it,” he said, gesturing at the trophy.
Farah’s athletic achievements are undisputed, as an owner of 10 global titles. He won 10,000m gold and 5,000m silver at the world championships in London this summer to add to four Olympic golds and a further five world titles. But his medals have been overshadowed by controversies surrounding his support team.
Alberto Salazar, his former coach, remains under investigation by the US Anti-Doping Agency with a leaked report stating he almost certainly flouted anti-doping rules with six of his athletes – none of whom were Farah. After the 2016 Rio Olympics, Farah gave an interview stating his belief that he would never reach the Spoty podium again. “I won’t be in the top three,” he said. “You have just got to accept what it is. What drives me is winning medals and just going out there and enjoy it.”
However, on Sunday night, he said: “It means everything to me. I owe it to my country and I know I get the cheers on the track. It encourages me every day to keep grafting.”
Joshua, who beat Wladimir Klitschko in a world heavyweight unification bout at Wembley in April, made a hasty exit after failing to reach the podium.
The BBC also wrestled with how to reflect the cloud hanging over another of the shortlisted candidates, the four-time Tour de France winner Chris Froome.
The cyclist had been third favourite to win the award after making history by winning the Tour de France and Vuelta a España in the same year. But an investigation by the Guardian and Le Monde last week revealed that he had failed a drugs test during the Vuelta. He had twice the permitted level of asthma drug Salbutamol in his system.
But the video in support of Froome had clearly been recorded before Wednesday’s news, and was effusive in its praise. “King of the counterattack, master of the mountains, unflappable, untouchable, unbeatable,” viewers heard as pictures showed Froome grinding up a gruelling ascent. “How about history? How about back-to-back victories? The greatest of a generation. No ego here, no celebrity... history man, family man, stomach churning, pedals keep turning.”
Balance was needed and it was up to Clare Balding, one of three presenters alongside Lineker and Logan, to provide it. Tough questions were in order but this was not so much an interrogation as a gentle stroking over the video link to Mallorca where Froome has remained on a training camp with his Team Sky teammates. “What’s your take on it and the concern caused?” asked Balding.
Froome, 32, looked noticeably uncomfortable but said: “I do completely get it. I understand the concerns. I’ve been a bike rider for 10 years, I know how some people might look at our sport. That’s a responsibility that I take really seriously.
“I’m an asthmatic and I have been since I was a child. I have a puffer to help me manage my asthma. I’ve never taken more puffs than I should. This is quite a horrible situation. We’re working as hard as we can to get to the bottom of it.”
The four women who made the 12-strong shortlist – Bianca Walkden, Anya Shrubsole, Elise Christie and Johanna Konta — only accounted for 8 percent of the vote but Jessica Ennis-Hill, who has never won the main award, was honoured with a lifetime achievement award.
“I’m completely overwhelmed,” she said. “Amazing women have inspired me throughout my career and a roomful of legends here to see me get this award is unbelievable.”
The other winners were the England women’s cricket team, the coaches of the GB 4x100m relay team, tennis veteran Roger Federer, young Manchester City footballer Phil Foden and Bradley Lowery, the six-year-old Sunderland fan who died of cancer after a battle with the illness that captured the nation’s hearts.
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