Friday, December 28, 2012

The Greatest Sporting Performance of 2012

So it’s congratulations to Bradley Wiggins on claiming the mantle of Sports Personality of the Year. And although my vote went to the redoubtable Ellie Simmonds, it is difficult to begrudge Wiggins the award following his victory in the Tour de France and subsequent Olympic gold. What’s more he’s demonstrated a fair amount more √©lan than the usual sporting suspects who can barely manage an interview beyond the normal “Actually, at the end of the day, it was, actually, quite a tough contest in a game of two halves. Actually.” Here’s a man who can conduct his interviews in French, a mixture of post-Mod chic and laconic wit. And he should probably get those sideburns insured.

Still, it irritates me that ‘Wiggo’ has got such a poor nickname. It must say something about the British psyche that the sporting world and its journalists can’t move beyond a standard formula (shorten surname, and/or, add –a, -y or –o suffix). There was a time when English cricket was stuck in this rut, with the likes of Harmy, Stewy, Goughy and so on and on and on. It reached the stage where it was a blessed relief to find an Athers to break the monotony.  Now the guys on Test Match Special chortle heartily at how they must explain to their Indian colleagues why Alistair Cook is known as ‘Chef’. How far we’ve come. Yet Wiggins did at least manage to make the journos think. Wiggly and Wiggster were dismissed out of hand and Wiggy was quite obviously never going to be an acceptable moniker, whilst Wigga would have left the sub-editors with a dangerous bout of hypertension. Wiggo it is then.

Bradley Wiggin’s achievements in 2012 were indeed great. Olympic gold is rare enough but to win cycling’s premier endurance race as well is truly remarkable. The fact his SPOTY accolade was, in part, a reflection of the fact that he was the first Briton to win the Tour only serves to cheapen his triumphs. His victories have been stunning enough without locating them in the past failings of an imagined community. Bradley Wiggins would be a sporting icon if he had been the twentieth British winner of the Tour de France. Besides, he was born in Belgium and his dad’s Australian, so some of you need to get a grip with the national pride.

All of which begs the question, I’m sure you will agree, of what was the greatest sporting achievement of the year? The BBC’s Overseas Sports Personality honour went to Usain Bolt, following his triple gold medal haul at the London Games. No quibbles here given that he is the pre-eminent global sporting superstar and, quite simply, bloody awesome. It is a mark of how incredible an athlete he is – not to mention how churlish I can be – that I was disappointed by his failure to break any world records at the Olympics.

Another contender would be Hashim Amla, the South African batsman whose imperious form made a quality English bowling attack look positively ordinary. His 311 at the Oval was probably the finest innings I’ve never seen and he was a leading contender for beard of the year as well! And, lest I risk the wrath of at least one middle distance fan, I simply cannot fail to mention the performance of David Rudisha at the Olympics. The Massai middle-distance runner won the 800m title and in the process became the first person to break the 1:41.00 barrier. That he did so with such breath-taking grace guarantees his place amongst the greats of track and field.

And, finally, who can forget the unbelievable Sebastian Vettel, the youngest triple World Champion Formula 1 has ever seen? Well, me for one. Well done, Seb, ol’ chap, but let’s face it, F1 is basically an advertising exercise carried out at ridiculous speed. Essentially he’s a crazed taxi driver with less interesting chit-chat. Nuff said.

So, to the winner of the very first Inside Left Sporting Performance of the Year Award. For me there was only ever one victor, one person who produced a performance that – quite literally – made me jump up and shout “NO FUCKING WAY!!!” And that was Aries Merritt who broke the 110m hurdles record in Brussels. He didn’t just break the world record, he smashed it, taking over a tenth of a second off the previous best. When Usain Bolt broke the men’s 100m record by a tenth of a second he was rightly lauded as the incredible athlete of his generation. Merritt managed the same achievement but did so whilst hurdling three and a half foot barriers. And he ran an extra 10 metres. It was a stunning athletic feat, coupling unerring speed with technical brilliance. For this he is the very first winner of the ILSPOTYA. I’m sure he’ll be dead chuffed and his mum will be oh-so-proud. And for those of you that want to know what I’ve been gobbing off about, you can see it in the video below. Happy new year y’all.