It’s time for my annual awards for the top sportsmen, sportswomen and teams of the year from Britain and the World.
Some of the names that I considered for British sportswoman of the year for 2015 were:
Cat Taylor – won the world title for Orienteering in the middle-distance event.
However, this was something of a surprise result as she is ranked lower.
Emma Bristow – retained her world motorcycle trials title and only lost one race out of five in the world Trials season. Worth of serious consideration but Trials isn’t the most competitive sport.
Lizzy Yarnold – had another fine season at Skeleton winning the European and world titles. She was second in the World Cup.
Charlotte Dujardin – another world cup title at dressage and took two golds at the European championships although this time it couldn’t have been closer with the gold being decided by a fraction of a point.
Rachel Atherton – won the world title at downhill mountain bike. She also had an outstanding season in the World Cup losing only one race out of seven.
Lizzie Armitstead – won the world road race title and retained her world cup title in road racing. She won three of the races in the series and was ranked world number one at road racing.
Lucy Bronze – right-back for the England women’s football team which finished third at the World Cup. She was named in the Team of the Tournament and shortlisted for player of the tournament. She scored goals in the last 16 and quarter-finals.
Jessica Ennis-Hill – world champion at heptathlon after returning to the sport following the birth of her son.
Bianca Walkden – winner of the world title at Taekwondo in the Heavyweight division.
There were many possible candidates amongst the successful Para-sport competitors. There were world championships in athletics and swimming and a host of gold medals for British women. More than a dozen set world records in various sports. There are too many to mention everyone but two of the most notable were Hannah Cockroft and Kearney Tully.
Cockroft, winner of my award last year had another brilliant year. She won three golds at the world championships and set world records in three events during the year.
Tully won four golds at the IPC world swimming championships with three of those coming in individual events.
Lisa Ashton retained her world women’s darts title and is world ranked number one.
Looking at the claims of the candidates in more detail:
Taylor, Walkden and Ashton all won world titles but over the rest of the year weren’t consistent enough to be clear number ones in their sports.
Yarnold and Dujardin weren’t quite as consistent this year as at their very best.
Bronze had a great World Cup but it is hard to say whether she is the outstanding right-back in the world based on her other performances over the year.
I always tend to give more weight to performances in Olympic sports as the level of competition in those is generally stronger.
This means that Bristow and Atherton’s great years have to be considered very carefully. I decided that the number of wins at the highest level that Rachel Atherton achieved are enough to put her on my shortlist for sportswoman of the year.
Para-sports are difficult to assess because there are so many categories that the strength of competition is variable. To be considered for sportswoman of the year from Para-sport you have to be exceptional and Hannah Cockroft has for me again done enough to go on my shortlist.
Lizzie Armitstead is competing in the event with the most depth of any in this list. Women’s road race cycling is open to large numbers of cyclists from many countries and to win at the top level is hard so she is on my shortlist.
Jessica Ennis-Hill has won several awards recently as the British Sportswoman of 2015. However, much of the acclaim has been for coming back from childbirth to win the world title. My deliberations are purely on the sporting merits so ignore the comeback factor. Jessica’s achievement in winning the world title again was a fine one but she did little else in the year to back it up. In my eyes she did a thoroughly professional performance to win the title. She made no mistakes and was consistent while her closest rivals either underperformed or made big errors. Jessica’s score was good but nothing special by her own standards.
My top three are therefore Rachel Atherton, Hannah Cockroft and Lizzie Armitstead.
Rachel was almost perfect but that one loss means that in a non-Olympic event she just misses out.
Hannah’s year was so good that she could easily retain her title as Sportswoman of the Year. However, she is so dominant that it is hard to say just how good she is.
It was a difficult choice but I like to give this award to someone who has clearly had the best year of their career. In this case Armitstead clearly did. She has been helped by the absence of the all-conquering Marianne Vos but Lizzie had been the outstanding rider in a very competitive sport. In 2014 at the world championships she had a great chance of taking the gold when in a breakaway group but hesitated at a crucial moment and allowed a chasing group to reel them in and take the honours. This year she rode a perfect race. With no team left to support her in the closing stages she firstly caught the leading group and then made a brilliant attack on the final hill to blunt the speed of any fast-finishers. This gave her enough of an advantage to take a brilliant gold up the home straight. Add that to a fine World Cup season victory and for me the Sports History Chronicle British Sportswoman of the Year 2015 is Lizzie Armitstead.
2014 Hannah Cockroft (Para athletics): Runners-up Lizzy Yarnold (Skeleton), Charlotte Dujardin (Dressage)
2013 Charlotte Dujardin (Dressage) – unbeaten on Valegro, set a world best score and was European Champion Runners-Up: Hannah Cockroft (Para athletics), Becky James (Cycling)
2012 Sarah Storey (Para Cycling) – four golds at the Paralympics: Runners-Up: Charlotte Dujardin (Dressage), Jessica Ennis (Athletics), Ellie Simmonds (Para Swimming), Laura Trott (Cycling)