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Neil Drysdale: Emma Raducanu should win the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award

Emma Raducanu won the US Open singles title in New York in 2021.
Emma Raducanu won the US Open singles title in New York in 2021.

You certainly couldn’t doubt the drama at the end of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix: a late accident, frazzled marshals hastily reacting to ever-changing circumstances on the track… and Lewis Hamilton’s frantic radio messages to his team in the climactic laps.

It all looked so uncoordinated and sounded so chaotic that it came close to resembling a Christmas quiz night at Downing Street, and the shrieks of outrage meant the whining continued long after the cars were in the garage.

If you like motorsport, this was probably the stuff of dreams, even as Hamilton’s dreams of an unprecedented eighth world F1 title were stuffed with the finishing line in sight, when he was overtaken by Max Verstappen, who sped to his maiden global success with just seconds to spare.

Lewis Hamilton won the BBC Sports Personality of the Year in 2014 and 2020.

And yet, the suspicion lingered, even as all this was unfolding, that any pastime which relies so much on labyrinthine regulations and post-race protests and talk about Mercedes flouncing off to the Court of Arbitration for Sport is not really a sport at all, but a business, or at least a commercial enterprise where it suited the authorities to have a new star emerge triumphant after years of domination by the English driver.

The BBC was assuredly left in a bind by events in Abu Dhabi. How else to explain Hamilton’s omission from the list of candidates for the Sports Personality of the Year award, which the corporation announced on Monday; comprising Tom Daley, Tyson Fury, Adam Peaty, Emma Raducanu, Raheem Sterling and Sarah Storey? No sign of Hamilton, even though he would have made history with his eighth F1 title. Peculiar, eh!

Tom Daley finally struck gold at the Olympics. (Photo: Xinhua/Shutterstock)

But there again, it has been another strange 12 months, with Covid continuing to cast a blight, despite the best efforts of so many competitors in a plethora of diverse pursuits reaching the stratosphere and leaving us with indelible memories. The Olympics in Tokyo offered a surreal experience for TV viewers, with the Japanese public denied access to the party, but highlights abounded.

In terms of patience, graft and grit being rewarded, Daley and Matty Lee’s victory in the 10m synchro diving was far more than just about the technical and temperamental accomplishments of this talented duo.

A wonderful last hurrah

Daley, after all, has been famous since he was a 14-year-old prodigy, but seemed destined to be an Olympic nearly man. At 27, he had picked up two bronze medals at the Games, and had also dealt with his father’s death, told the world he was gay, and become a father himself in the intervening period, but access to the elusive piece of gold had proved a hurdle too far.

He knew this was his last hurrah, so the moment when he and Lee rose – and then plummeted – to the occasion in perfect harmony was a glorious reminder of how the Olympic flame burns passionately even in a pandemic.

And, just as important, was his emotional speech, where he said: “I hope that any young LGBT person out there can see that, no matter how alone you feel right now, you are not alone and that you can achieve anything.”

Eve Muirhead, left, skipped Scotland to gold at the European Curling Championships. Picture by WCF/Celine Stucki.

But, while there have been effervescent moments in myriad fields and many from Scots – off the top of my head, I can think of Josh Taylor, Eve Muirhead, Laura Muir, Robert MacIntyre, Duncan Scott, Catriona Matthew, Stuart Hogg and his rugby colleagues ending the 38-year Twickenham hoodoo and the men and women’s cricket exploits on the international stage – one story above all lifted my spirits in 2021 and it happened at Flushing Meadows.

Indeed, the outpouring of joy and celebration which erupted following Raducanu’s remarkable triumph at September’s US Open in New York was one of the great sporting stories of this or any other decade.

It wasn’t just the joyful fashion in which the teenager stormed to her first Grand Slam title after starting as a qualifier in New York, nor the imperious manner in which she won all seven matches without conceding a set.

Scotland’s Stuart Hogg, second left, celebrates after Scotland’s Duhan Van der Merwe scored the winning try.

Instead, it was the confirmation in her positivity and genuine passion for the game and the combination of power, precision and panache which she displayed against opponents including the Olympic champion Belinda Bencic and Leylah Fernandez, that here is an athlete with the potential to dominate tennis for the next decade if she can manage to transcend the hype.

Raducanu has already been forced to deal with some of the less savoury aspects of life in the goldfish bowl as a female wunderkind. She was on the receiving end of dismissive comments from the likes of John McEnroe and Kevin Pietersen after retiring from her fourth-round match with Ajla Tomljanovic at Wimbledon, due to breathing difficulty on her debut at SW19.

Emma Raducanu powered her way to success at the US Open in New York (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Even after her astonishing success in the Big Apple, there were people waiting for her to come crashing down to earth and, to his discredit, these included England rugby coach Eddie Jones, a less-than-sunny character.

Thankfully, the 19-year-old possesses the necessary ingredients to rise above any obstacles. She watched and learned from Andy Murray in the early days and one suspects she won’t be fazed by celebrity.

Her victory was completely against the odds, and her unalloyed sense of wonder when she prevailed was utterly infectious. This was a tale straight out of Hollywood, but it was achieved by somebody who wasn’t even a household name in her own living room in 2020.

Whatever anybody else thinks, Raducanu is my sports personality of the year.