Why Jessica Ennis-Hill has to win Sports Personality of the Year

Jessica Ennis-Hill the outstanding candidate to win Sports Personality of the Year, writes Marcus Foley.
Despite a near-decade of sporting excellence, Jessica Ennis-Hill has yet to be crowned BBC Sports Personality of the Year. It is a travesty that needs addressing this year. Her Olympic exploits saw her second behind Bradley Wiggins in 2012; while in 2009 and 2010 she claimed third spot.
Athletics has by far been the most successful sport since the award’s inception in 1954, with the sport generating the award’s winner on a staggering 17 occasions. Formula One has been the second most prolific discipline, claiming seven. Football, the nation’s sport of choice, has only triumphed on five occasions. However, 2004 was the last time a sportsperson from the world of athletics won the award. Kelly Holmes’s win came in the wake of her 800 and 1500m double at the Olympics.
The recipient of the award is, according to the BBC, said to “have most captured the public’s imagination”. That brief is, well, broad and vague. However, it appears athletics no longer captures the public’s imagination. Perhaps Ennis-Hill is a victim of the declining popularity of her sport or the seemingly consistent cloud of suspicion that hangs over it.
That an athlete as accomplished as Ennis-Hill has yet to win the award remains an anomaly but one that, all things considered, should be addressed this year. A double world champion and reigning Olympic champion, Ennis-Hill is quite clearly at the pinnacle of her sport.
She first won a world title in 2009, finished second to Tatyana Chernova in 2013 despite beating her in five of the seven events, missed the 2013 championships through injury and returned to claim the 2015 title just 13 months after giving birth to her son. Sandwiched between those world titles was of course her 2012 Olympics success.
At those Olympics, she ran a 100m hurdles time that would have won her gold at every Olympics bar Seoul 1988 and Athens 2004 since the discipline was introduced to the Olympics in 1972. Ennis-Hill has dominated her sport for over half a decade and heads to the Rio Olympics as favourite. She was at the top of her sport, took a break and returned to dominate again.
It is not hyperbole to state that her 2015 achievements have been her most impressive, and, as such, she should be the clear winner of this year’s award.
Ennis-Hill words after her improbable win serve as the best measure of said achievements.
“This is definitely one of the greatest moments of my career, I still can’t believe it. Me and coach Toni (Minichiello) spoke about coming here, and we only wanted to come if I was able to compete for a medal. We spoke about the bronze medal and that it would be amazing for a silver medal, but we never spoke about gold. I kind of thought it was a little beyond me this year. There were doubts before the Anniversary Games but performing in London showed me I was making progress. If I’d come away with a bronze I’d have been so happy, so to win gold is unbelievable. This has been the hardest year ever. There were different pressures going into London 2012, but here juggling all my mummy duties has been even harder. I want to thank everyone for their help and sacrifices in helping me get back to being the athlete I was.”
Basically, she surpassed even her own expectations – in her hardest ever year. She really had absolutely no right to become a double world champion. Her 2015 world championship says much for her mental as well as physical capabilities. She clearly was not at her best yet managed to grind her way to the win and that says much for her strength of character.
British sport is often afflicted by a mental fragility; this shore’s football, rugby and cricket teams were eliminated at the group stage at their last world tournaments – when the going got tough, the weak got eliminated.
Furthermore, not only is Ennis-Hill one of Britain’s pre-eminent sports stars she is also of substantial moral fibre, as evidenced by her deeds following her home town club Sheffield United’s declaration that they were considering signing convicted rapist Ched Evans.
She asked the club to remove her name that adorned the away stand at Brammall Lane; she will have known that her actions will have opened her up to a barrage of abuse from trolls and the like but still made her stand.
Again it says much for her character, which, it goes without saying, is completely unblemished – of course that is not a given for some of the other sports people on the list.
The counterargument that she – or more pertinently – athletics fails to capture the public’s imagination is a fallow one. Andy Murray is favourite for the award but with the greatest respect to the Scot he is hardly the most captivating of personalities – certainly in public.
However, tennis is the recipient of far more TV coverage than athletics and, by extension, this allows its protagonists greater opportunity to “capture the public’s imagination”. Were athletics afforded as much exposure as tennis then Ennis-Hill would be a runaway winner. However, apathy toward her sport – whether it be from broadcasters or fans – should not be allowed undermine her achievements. And failing to win SPOTY when she is the standout candidate would undermine those achievements.

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