Wednesday, 6 December 2006

Welsh World Champions reduced to mere contenders

It’s good to see two superb Welsh World Champions nominated for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Award on Sunday, even if the bookies have Darren Clarke down as the runaway favourite while the Telegraph and Daily Mail are doing everything they can to rally support for the “dedicated, unbelievably hard-working and equally deserving” 25 year-old eleventh-in-line-to the-throne, Zara Phillips.

At the moment of writing, you can’t get better than 1/4 on Darren Clarke – clearly a pointless bet – while the odds on “committed, competitive and professional” Zara Phillips have shortened to 7/2. The bookies must be fairly certain that a Welsh personality won’t get the award since you can get odds of 50/1 on Joe Calzaghe at Paddy Power and 100/1 on Nicole Cooke at Coral, despite their achievements being by far and away the most deserving of the award.

Darren Clarke showed extraordinary fortitude, not to mention good old-fashioned sportsmanship, in contributing to Europe’s Ryder Cup victory over the United States shortly after the death of his wife from cancer, and Zara Phillips did very well to win the three-day eventing competition at the World Equestrian Games, even though her team mate, whose name is Toytown, actually did all the legwork. But these triumphs pale into insignificance compared to the accomplishments of Joe Calzaghe and Nicole Cooke.

I was lucky enough to be sat at ringside, alongside a few members of the cast of Coronation Street as a guest of ITV Sport, when Joe fought America’s then favourite super-middleweight, Jeff Lacy, at the MEN Arena in Manchester at two in the morning on a bitterly cold day in March this year. It was perhaps the most perfect demonstration of pugilism ever to be delivered by any fighter at any weight, the culmination of the brutally hard work the 34 year-old Calzaghe has put into his sport since the age of 9.

But its not that one fight that defines Joe Calzaghe; it’s all the fights he’s won since 1997, the longest reign of any World Champion in history.

At only 23 years old, Nicole Cooke may be the greatest woman road race cyclist there has ever been. This year she won the individual World Cup crown and captained the World title-winning team. She led the women’s equivalent of the Tour de France (La Grande Boucle) from start to finish and dominated the Magali Pache with perhaps her great ever performance in a time trial.

I’ve never participated in a television vote but I’ll make a point of voting for Joe and Nicole on Sunday. The result will come down to how the BBC producers decide to pitch each little film they make to support the nominations, of course, but I’d have a tenner on Joe to be the first Welshman on the moon at odds of 50/1, and I’ll take a 100/1 patriotic flyer on Nicole while I’m at it.

Since I’ll be at the bookies anyway, I might as well have a piece of the existentialist action at 6/1 on David Beckham getting a knighthood in the New Year’s Honours List, especially since the idea that such a ludicrous thing might actually come to pass appeals to my wicked, absurdist nature. By comparison with betting on the outcome of the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Award, this is a wager that looks like ridiculously easy money in the upside down world we now inhabit.

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