With just over a month until BBC Sports Personality of the Year 2015, the Bubble looks at some of the contenders for the top prize.
Jessica Ennis-Hill (athletics)
Jess Ennis, as she then was, must count among the best runners-up in SPOTY’s history. Appointed by pundits as the icon of London 2012, she channelled rather than resisting a pressure so intense that even silver would have seemed a disappointment. She won the gold she deserved, although came second in the public vote, in an outrageously good year for British sport. In Beijing this year, Ennis-Hill’s rivals were stronger and expectations lower. Her achievement, then, to win heptathlon gold once more – so soon after the birth of her first son – was perhaps even more remarkable than her dominance in 2012.
Lewis Hamilton (motorsport)
Until recently, no British driver had won consecutive Formula One titles. Lewis Hamilton put an end to that sequence this year with a season of quietly impressive control. No-one has won the Sports Personality prize in two successive years, either. Could Hamilton be the first to manage that as well? He was the runaway winner a year ago, commanding over a third of all votes cast. Hamilton, unusually for him, has enjoyed a season as uncontroversial as it was successful. Hamilton does not tug at the heartstrings of the casual fan quite as much as Ennis-Hill. But his achievements ought to put him in the top three.
Andy Murray (tennis)
Andy Murray has had a fine year. The trouble is, that is true almost every year. Even more so than Hamilton, Murray is expected to succeed and makes more news when he fails. After years without a Brit who could beat middling players, we are bored by one who tends to pummel them. A fourth Australian Open final was forgettable, especially as it ended in a fourth defeat. Still, Murray has one advantage. The Davis Cup final, where Great Britain could hardly hope to be without Murray, takes place just weeks before SPOTY. A first British triumph since 1936 could give Murray a chance.
Chris Froome (cycling)
Those who sniggered in 2013, when Murray won a prize with ‘personality’ in the title, might make a similar point about Froome. The public’s lack of warmth towards Froome is curious. It cannot be explained merely by the charm of Bradley Wiggins; tennis fans have come to admire Murray as much as the more garrulous Tim Henman. Most people are unaware of Froome’s Kenyan heritage, and even fewer care. Certainly, the air of suspicion (and sometimes outright hostility) that surrounded Froome during the Tour did not help, but apathy towards him was nothing new. Froome has earned his titles. Future cycling fans will wonder why he earned so little affection. He is unlikely to win a public vote.
Wayne Rooney (football)
Only five times in SPOTY’s 61-year history has the top prize landed on a footballer’s mantelpiece. It is not hard to see why. Club supporters are too partisan to reward a rival. At international level, players are judged by impossible standards and remembered for their failures. Their best chance is to impress the national psyche with their spirit, like Gascoigne in 1990, or stand out in a mediocre team. One could make a case for Rooney, inaugurated as England’s record scorer in September. His career deserves respect. But had Bobby Charlton scored a few more goals, Rooney’s year would seem pedestrian.
Steph Houghton (football)
An alternative for football fans. The England women’s team, led by Houghton, had a marvellous World Cup. The traumatic nature of their defeat – prompted by a late own goal – served only to bring them more attention. Houghton has become a symbol of the women’s game, and is a star of FIFA 16. Her club, Manchester City, also had a good year, finishing second in Women’s Super League One. If her credentials are missing one thing, it is an iconic moment of personal success. There is a reason why defenders struggle to win prizes. But victory for Houghton would constitute another breakthrough for women’s football.
Mo Farah (athletics)
Like his teammate Ennis-Hill, Farah can put his lack of a SPOTY prize so far down to poor timing. Like Murray, his career record is one of the most remarkable in modern British sport. But like Froome, he has probably competed under too many clouds this year. A series of allegations against Farah’s coach, Antonio Salazar, made it hard not to ask questions of Farah. His bungling response was a seminar in poor public relations. Farah preserved his reputation as a runner, however securing yet another 5,000m and 10,000m double at the World Championships in Beijing. He even had time to stop for a drink.
Stuart Lancaster (rugby union)