Sports Personality of the Year: Thomas wins, Fury thrives, plus two brilliant Billies

Cycling


Watch: Cyclist Thomas wins Sports Personality of the Year 2018

You might think being BBC Sports Personality of the Year would lead to long celebrations and a slightly ropey feeling the next day.

In the cold dawn of Monday, Geraint Thomas left his trophy with friends in Birmingham, got on a train and headed to Majorca for a training camp.

Just a few hours earlier he allowed himself a drink while chatting to reporters, a bottle of lager in one hand, the iconic award in the other.

“Well you don’t win one of these every day,” he said, seemingly nonplussed as reality dawned – the kid from Cardiff’s name was joining a roll of honour that includes Bobby Moore, Ian Botham, Daley Thompson, David Beckham, Paula Radcliffe and Andy Murray.

Thomas, who was presented with his award by 2017 winner Mo Farah, is the first Welshman to win Sports Personality since footballer Ryan Giggs in 2009.

He is the fourth cycling victor in the last decade following Sir Chris Hoy (2008), Mark Cavendish in 2011 and Sir Bradley Wiggins a year later.

“As a bike rider, I was always focused on myself, but hearing stories like Tyson Fury’s and Billy Monger’s, then seeing kids on their bikes back home, you take great pride in winning this,” he said.

“It’s been an amazing year for British sport and long may it continue.”

Thomas typifies stars of 2018 show

Sacrifice, dedication, humility and winning against the odds are the qualities that helped the Welsh cyclist claim the 2018 award.

They are also traits demonstrated by others who proved stars of the show – boxer Tyson Fury, racing driver Billy Monger and tennis legend Billie Jean King.

Tour de France winner Thomas took the coveted BBC award in a public vote ahead of Formula 1 champion Lewis Hamilton, with footballer Harry Kane third.

“It is unbelievable and super nice,” said Thomas.

“It is one of those things where it’s down to people to vote. I’ve been looking at the names and to be on here now is crazy.”

While full voting figures were not released it is understood the 32-year-old was a fairly clear winner ahead of five-time world champion Hamilton, while England captain Kane just edged out record-breaking sprinter Dina Asher-Smith for third place.

Cricketer James Anderson and double Winter Olympic gold medallist Lizzy Yarnold completed the shortlist of six contenders, with Fury and snooker star Ronnie O’Sullivan among those to miss out.

Fury has got up off the canvas in both the ring and life – dogged by depression but showing the strength of character to become a powerful mental health advocate. More of which later from Frank Bruno, who knows that struggle all too well.

2018 – year of the ‘G’

Thomas holds the trophy alongside 1983 Sports Personality Steve Cram and 2002 winner Paula Radcliffe

Friends, family and fans know Geraint simply as ‘G’ and gee has he had some career and year.

He began 2018 as a two-time Olympic champion – and ended it with cycling’s biggest prize after triumphing in the gruelling Tour de France.

Thomas was the first British winner of back-to-back stages – La Rosiere and then on top of the demanding Alpe d’Huez.

He became the first Welshman to win the event and only the third British rider after Sir Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome.

Spare a thought here for Froome – a four-time Tour champion, yet never in the top three of Sports Personality and not even nominated in one of those years.

In this year of the G, Thomas also claimed victory at June’s Criterium du Dauphine and won the BBC Cymru Wales Sports Personality of the Year for the second time.

His wife Sara said: “I’ve grown up watching these awards and it’s the public deciding that out of all these unbelievable achievements, yours was our favourite. It’s just massive for us.

“My phone has gone crazy with all our friends saying you owe us a drink over Christmas for the amount of our phone bill.”

Analysis

Tom Fordyce, BBC chief sports writer

This has been the year it all came right for Thomas, who at the start of 2018 appeared to be a rider blessed with remarkable talent but cursed on the biggest occasions of all.

He crashed out of the Giro d’Italia last year when in the form of his life, crashed out of the 2017 Tour de France having been in the leader’s yellow jersey at the start, and again on the final descent of the 2016 Olympic road race when closing in on the lead.

Thomas grew up watching Sports Personality, and as a kid on the family sofa would always consider it the start of Christmas proper. Now he is a winner himself, and his happy disbelief was impossible to hide.

Fury hath no fury

‘If I can do it, anybody can’ – Fury’s message on mental health

The shortlist, decided by an expert panel, was announced during the show for the first time, rather than a few weeks in advance.

Bookmakers made Kane favourite – ahead of Thomas and Hamilton – after he won the Golden Boot for top scorer as England reached the World Cup semi-finals for the first time in 28 years.

Former world heavyweight champion Fury was fourth favourite following a dramatic draw against Deontay Wilder, and O’Sullivan featured next in the betting with a record 19 Triple Crown titles.

Six-time world snooker champion Steve Davis had called for ‘The Rocket’ to win the award, but he has yet to be nominated despite winning trophies for 25 years.

During the show, Fury’s promoter Frank Warren tweeted: “To be fair, this is a joke.”

Both entered contention late in the year and if they had been included – having not won a world title in 2018 – current world champions Anthony Joshua and Mark Williams would have a case to be included too in a show that was deep in the planning process.

Steve Bunce, a boxing pundit on BBC Radio 5 live, said the sport needed to galvanise fans into voting – Fury’s big fight was beaten by the England netball team’s Commonwealth Games triumph for the ‘Moment of the Year’.

Golf was also questioning its profile as Georgia Hall was not nominated having won the Women’s British Open, while some in horse racing questioned its restricted air time, and ice hockey did not feature at all.

Fury was included on the 2015 shortlist despite protest petitions over his homophobic comments.

But the self-styled Gypsy King will have won many new admirers with his open discussion of mental health matters.

The message – if a world heavyweight champion, the toughest guy on the planet can suffer – so can anyone.

Bruno has suffered more than most down the years. Confined to a psychiatric unit for weeks, shattered by the turmoil in his head.

Now appearing chipper and bright, he chatted before the show about the prospect of a potential British showdown between Joshua and Fury.

“Anthony Joshua is a very, very difficult guy to beat, he’s on point and he’s hungry, he’s focused, and on his game. If anybody could beat Anthony Joshua it’s Tyson Fury – but I wouldn’t go against Joshua,” he said.

The two Billies

Watch: Billy Monger wins Helen Rollason Award

The name Billy Monger was trending on social media after an acceptance speech for the Helen Rollason Award that displayed maturity well beyond his 19 years.

Motor racing driver Monger lost both his legs after a horrific crash, but has carried on racing and is thankful to be alive.

Backstage there was a magical moment when the two ‘Billies’ met – the teenage driver and Lifetime Achievement award winner Billie Jean-King, 75.

They hugged, smiled and it was tennis icon and equality campaigner Billie-Jean who asked Billy for a picture.

“I’m in awe of his tenacity. It was an honour to meet him,” she said.

Monger’s acceptance speech was cut early in error although he was later invited to finish what he wanted to say.

“I wanted to thank my mum and dad and my family for being such a big support. It’s understandable that my mum and dad don’t really want me to carry on racing but they’ve been so supportive,” he said.

A step up to racing in Formula Three in Europe next year is his next hope.

Three years ago, the Helen Rollason Award – which is given in memory of the BBC presenter for courage in the face of adversity – went to Bailey Matthews.

Bailey, then aged eight, had completed a triathlon unaided despite having cerebral palsy which makes it difficult for him to walk.

He had a reunion just off the show’s red carpet with Fury after the two met at the awards in Belfast in 2015.

“I think there’s more power in his tickle than his punch,” joked the 11-year-old.

Last year there was a highly emotional moment when the parents of Bradley Lowery were presented with the award, five months after their football-loving son died aged six from a rare form of cancer.

Bradley built up a special friendship with footballer Jermain Defoe and Monger recalled being in the crowd to witness the moment.

Of his own prospects, Monger said: “I’m sure my journey is not stopping here and I won’t let this be the end.”

Thomas, Fury and King are the high-profile athletes who have overcome various hurdles to succeed.

Billy, Bradley and Bailey are the charismatic kids that remind us how sport can showcase the triumph of the human spirit.

Billy Monger (left) and Billie Jean King with their awards



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