Emma Raducanu the hot favourite to claim 2021 BBC SPOTY crown after sizzling summer

·4-min read
Emma Raducanu the hot favourite to claim 2021 BBC SPOTY crown after sizzling summer

In years of such sporting congestion and British success as this one, the BBC has occasionally expanded the shortlist for its Sports Personality of the Year award, but not this time around.

Such is the ruthlessness with which the six-strong shortlist has been compiled, a cricketer enjoying the most prolific 12 months of any Englishman ever and a Formula One driver who came within a farcical lap of sporting history could not get a look in, and neither could Britain’s greatest male and female Olympians, nor its youngest.

Even so, half of the nominees are recognised for their achievements in Tokyo — Dame Sarah Storey, who became Britain’s most successful Paralympian with her 17th title; Tom Daley, whose heroic realisation of a fading Olympic dream was immediately cast as a tearjerker fit for the Hollywood screen; and Adam Peaty, whose 100m breaststroke gold seemed inevitable before he had even entered the pool.

Still, having performed in empty venues thousands of miles from home, all three must have envied Raheem Sterling, the boy from Brent who, under the Wembley arch, less than a mile from the house where he grew up, proved the spearhead for an England team that united a nation. And then there was Tyson Fury, who, for all his admirable resilience and indisputable brilliance, continues to divide it.

So varied are their achievements that comparison would be difficult were it not for the fact that those of a teenage girl from Bromley stand so clearly apart, her escapades this year genuinely ranking among the most remarkable in British sport over the past hundred.

Emma Raducanu’s Wimbledon breakout was a post A-Level bolt from the blue, her New York coronation the conclusion of a freakish, summer-long thrill-ride of unprecedented speed and unimaginable conclusion, one that made her a household name by the time she received her exam results.

As momentum built, her progression through the rounds at the US Open became more unfathomable and yet felt more pre-destined, to the point where she faced Leylah Fernandez at Arthur Ashe Stadium for the final in the bizarre position of being simultaneously the world No150, the first qualifier to ever reach a Grand Slam final and the odds-on favourite to win it.

With each victory, one headline writer or another would jump the gun and proclaim the ‘Fairytale of New York’, scarcely believing the most sparkling of happy endings was still to come. So close to Christmas, it would be remiss not to bask in it once more here.

It was a tale of rare precocity, facilitated by a perfect storm of circumstances that still did almost nothing to rationalise how any of it could have happened. Weirdly, after the way things ended prematurely for her at Wimbledon, there was even an air of redemption to it, a strange thing to find in a career that had been capturing the public’s attention for only slightly longer than the latest series of Love Island.

The ferocious, widespread condemnation of John McEnroe, Piers Morgan and Eddie Jones, all of whom blundered at some point in questioning the character or the resolve of this logic-defying sensation, told of her ascendancy to the office of nation’s darling. Tennis correspondents quipped (only half in jest) that their livelihoods had been saved.

 (REUTERS)
(REUTERS)

And fine, she did not quite spark the out-of-body, ‘where’s-our-bank-holiday?’ collective, euphoric meltdown of the de-facto home Euros, but it was not a million miles away as, on a Saturday evening in September, pubs and bars across the country were forced to fire up projectors above dancefloors and abandon garden curfews as revellers shelved their onward plans to stay to watch two teenagers do battle on the other side of the world late into the night.

After Andy Murray’s decline, British tennis had gone into a slump — or rather, reverted to recent type — still capable of producing talented individuals who might trouble the occasional semi-final, but not much beyond.

Wimbledon was, as it always will be, an exhibition of the world’s greatest players and an iconic showcase of the best of British off the court, but gone was the prospect of much home success on it.

And then along came Emma and, whatever happens between now and then, SW19 will, next summer, be awash with Radumania. Before then, the British public will surely show their appreciation once more in 2021, by making her the most deserving Sports Personality of the Year.

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