World of Sport

The Sports Personalities of the Year who should never have been

The shortlist for this year's BBC Sports Personality of the Year is perhaps the strongest ever seen.

There was a rush of gold medallists from London 2012 - including era-defining performances by Mo Farah, Jessica Ennis and Ben Ainslie - but the Olympics was just the start.

Bradley Wiggins became the first Briton to win the Tour de France while Andy Murray the first British man to win a Grand Slam singles title for well over half a century. The fact that both picked up Olympic golds as well says it all.

Poor old Rory McIlroy won a Major championship at the US PGA, was part of a genuinely miraculous Ryder Cup victory and firmly established himself as world number one, yet is rated a 100-1 shot by bookies.

And all this is before you consider what are possibly the most inspirational sports stars of the lot: Paralympic heroes David Weir, Sarah Storey and Ellie Simmonds.

This embarrassment of riches for Britain has only one downside: only one person can win the coveted Sports Personality of the Year award.

It wasn't always this way: the BBC archives are full of SPOTY winners that we look at now scratching our heads and thinking, "how on earth did THEY get it?"

So here's our pick of the strangest SPOTY winners - and some of the people they shouldn't have beaten.

The BBC Sports Personality of the Year trophy

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1954 - Chris Chataway (athletics) beats Roger Bannister (athletics)

Roger Bannister ran the historic first four-minute mile in May 1954, but finished second in SPOTY to a man who he beat in the race, and was in fact only taking part as his pacemaker. Chataway was far more of a personality, however: neurologist Bannister was a quiet, bookish man while Chataway was (and probably still is) a lively character who went on to become a newsreader, MP and campaigner against Apartheid. Perhaps the 'personality' element of the award really meant something back then.

Roger Bannister runs the four-minute mile that left SPOTY voters cold

1967 and 1970 - Henry Cooper (boxing) rewarded for not becoming world champion

In 1970 Tony Jacklin won the US Open (his second Major in as many seasons) while Bobby Moore led England thrillingly close to defending their World Cup crown. Both lost out to Cooper, who bafflingly took the title despite his heyday - his two fights against Muhammad Ali in 1964 and 1966 - being a fading memory.

1975 — David Steele (cricket) wins for getting lost in the Lord's toilets

The journeyman cricketer picked up the title mainly on the strength of his comic Test debut for England against Australia in that year's Ashes. A baffling surprise selection who had been on the verge of retirement (he was dubbed "the accountant who went to war") the silver-haired, glasses-wearing Steele took a wrong turn in the Pavilion at Lord's while going out onto the pitch, and ended up in the basement toilets. He narrowly avoided being the first ever Test cricketer to be 'timed out', and went on to put on a solid (though characteristically unspectacular) performance in a series loss.

Nigel Mansell, twice a SPOTY, but only once for the right reasons

1986 - Nigel Mansell (F1) picks up sympathy vote for tyre explosion as Gary Lineker (football) is nowhere to be seen

Hats off to Nigel Mansell for losing the world championship purely because of a tyre blowing out 19 laps from the end of the season. But why was World Cup golden boot winner Gary Lineker not even in the top three? Even more baffling than Mansell's win was Fatima Whitbread's second place when her only notable act of the year had been sitting on the ground crying after losing the Commonwealth Games javelin gold to Tessa Sanderson (Sanderson was not in the top three either). Kenny Dalglish lead Liverpool to the double and retired from the international game and still only managed third place. Gary's golden boot didn't get a look in.

1991 — Liz McColgan (athletics) profits after fishy disqualification of Bob Nudd (fishing)

Unless you're a member of the royal family, it's very difficult for a woman to win SPOTY, so it may seem uncharitable to question a female victor. Our problem isn't so much that McColgan won after claiming the World Championship 10,000m title — it's that she actually didn't win at all. Angling legend Bob Nudd actually received by far the most support after a concerted campaign by the Angling Times, which printed voting forms in its pages. Fearing the award would become a laughing stock, the BBC summarily disqualified Nudd in a manner that today would no doubt have the tabloids screaming scandal.

1994 - Damon Hill (F1) winning because Michael Schumacher crashed into him; 1996 - Damon Hill (F1) beats Steve Redgrave (Olympic rowing)

Don't get us wrong, Damon Hill seems a nice bloke. If he was your next-door neighbour he'd probably feed the cat if you went away for the weekend and so on, but really, two SPOTY titles in two years? The first was essentially a sympathy vote for being denied the title by the cunning and ruthlessness of Michael Schumacher intentionally crashing into him in the last race of the season; the second came despite Steve Redgrave becoming the world's greatest Olympian by winning a fourth rowing gold in as many Olympics. Poor old Steve had to keep on battling away for another four years to make sure he picked up the SPOTY title before retiring. Odd to note that narrow defeats in the F1 championship used to guarantee the award, but both Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button have won the world title without scooping the Beeb's top gong.

Smile, Damon: Schuey's cheating just won you the SPOTY award!

1997 - Greg Rusedski (tennis) wins because nobody else did anything

Getting to the US Open final was a solid effort, will give the Canadian-born left-hander that much. But if anybody - anybody at all - had won anything significant in the whole of Britain that year then there's no way Rusedski would have won. No way. We hereby call on him to do the decent thing and donate his award to Jessica Ennis, who is almost guaranteed a third appearance in the top-three without ever actually winning the thing.