Before Monday’s announcement of this year’s shortlist for BBC Sports Personality of the Year, we’ll confess that we felt a little bit of trepidation. Surely they couldn’t ‘do a 2011’ and pick a shortlist entirely bereft of women? Thankfully, it seems lessons were learned and of the expanded 12-competitor shortlist, 5 slots were taken by some of the country’s highest performing sportswomen. And rightly so. From now until the ceremony itself on December 16th, we’ll be profiling the female competitors, making a case for each of them to walk home with the trophy. Today: Katherine Grainger.
Jim Valvano, the great American college basketball coach, famously said in his 1993 ESPY award acceptance speech, ‘Never give up. Failure and rejection are only the first step to succeeding.’ Katherine Grainger was just 17-years old when Valvano made his speech and Valvano tragically died just weeks after his acceptance speech, seven years before Grainger won her first Olympic silver medal in Sydney in 2000, yet if there has ever been an embodiment of Valvano’s competitive sentiments, Grainger is surely it.
One of Great Britain’s most ardent competitors – Grainger’s medals at 4 consecutive Olympic Games between Sydney in 2000 and London in 2012 place her in an exceptionally select group of British Olympians – coming into this year’s home Games, Grainger was in danger of developing a reputation as the eternal bridesmaid.
Having taken silver medals in each of her first two Games, Grainger and her quadruple scull teammates were well fancied to take Gold in Beijing. Entering the Games as three-times World Champions, the British team lost a second’s lead at the halfway stage to come in second behind host nation China: watching post-match interviews with Grainger and her crew, the feeling of grief was almost palpable.
After a short stint in Single Sculls, Grainger reverted to the Double Sculls in 2009 and entered the London 2012 Games as the veteran half of her pairing with fellow Beijing rower Anna Watkins. Having once again taken consecutive World Championships in the build-up to Olympic year, most expected nothing less than a gold for Grainger – and few dared to hope that she might finally achieve the Olympic title her talent and application so richly deserved.
This time, Grainger was not to be denied, leading to some of the most genuinely emotional scenes of the entire Games as an already Olympic legend finally put the crowning achievement on her Olympic career.
Why she’ll win
The SPOTY has always been an emotionally charged award and what could be more appropriate than to crown the achievements of someone who has genuinely embodied the single-minded competitiveness that marks out the great from the simply very good? To take your first gold medal in your fourth Olympic Games and to do so in front of a home crowd – that’s got Award Fairytale Material written all over it.
Why she won’t win
There’s just a feeling that, in amongst all the magic of the London 2012 Games, perhaps Grainger’s was just a little bit too expected. Couple that with the relatively unfashionable nature of rowing as a sport and the fact that the country has been blessed with some of its greatest competitors of all time in recent years (yes, Sir Matthew, Sir Steve, we’re looking at you here) and Grainger might have to make do with an Olympic Gold for her troubles this year. Mind you, I’m not sure she’ll be complaining.
Image http://livefreerange.com (thank yooou!)