Murray the fighter: ‘greatest of all time’

Long journey to the top: Murray lost his first four grand slam finals.© PA

Last night Andy Murray became the first person to win Sports Personality of the Year three times. Some are now calling him Britain’s greatest ever athlete. Does he deserve the accolade?

First came disappointment, as Andy Murray lost his fifth Australian Open final in January. Then more agony, as his arch-rival and close friend Novak Djokovic easily beat him in the French Open final.

But it was the second half of the year that made 2016 Murray’s annus mirabilis. Just over a month on from his defeat in Paris, Murray won Wimbledon for a second time — no British man had won since the great Fred Perry in 1934. Just a month later he became the first player to win consecutive Olympic gold medals.

And then, in November, Murray’s victory in the World Tour Finals meant that he ended the year top of the ATP world rankings: the best tennis player in the world. Last night he was crowned the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year (SPOTY) for the second year in a row.

Despite Great Britain’s superb showing at the Rio Olympics, the winner, Murray, was always the favourite. Triathlete Alistair Brownlee came second, with show-jumper Nick Skelton in third place.

SPOTY has been going since 1954. The first winner was long distance runner Chris Chataway. Since then, the award has been won 48 times by people from England, seven from Scotland, four from Wales, three from Northern Ireland and one from the Isle of Man. Of the 63 winners, just 13 have been female.

Some claim that SPOTY is unfairly skewed in favour of individual sports: 17 athletes have won, compared with five footballers and only one rugby union player.

But the big debate comes down to this: who is Britain’s greatest ever? Daley Thompson sparked a huge row this summer in the Daily Mail by picking Sebastian Coe — with cricketer Ian Botham, footballer Bobby Charlton, golfer Nick Faldo, jockey Lester Piggott, boxer Lennox Lewis and cyclist Chris Hoy in close contention.

But is it possible to compare the achievements of, say, a tennis player with those of a long-jumper, or a footballer from the 1930s with a contemporary player such as Wayne Rooney? Or is it all terribly subjective?

Eye of the beholder

Awards like SPOTY are just window-dressing, say some. The only measure of success in sport is winning. Anything beyond that is purely down to personal preference. Some may love Murray’s aggressive relentlessness, while others are enchanted by the rags-to-riches story of Mo Farah. It is a matter of opinion.

How unintelligent! We have brains that can compare and rank almost anything in the world. Why not compare different sporting achievements? There is a lot in common between champions — for instance, dedication, skill and competitiveness. These awards are a great way to look at sport as a career and a calling, not merely as rankings, tables and results. And they spark great discussions in the process.

You Decide

  1. Are arguments about greatness a waste of time?
  2. Who is the greatest sportsman or sportswoman in British history?


  1. Imagine you were running a campaign to gather votes for your candidate as Sports Personality of the Year. Design a powerful, hard-hitting poster.
  2. Research one past winner of Sports Personality of the Year and give a five minute presentation on their career.

Some People Say...

“Comparisons are odorous”

William Shakespeare in Much Ado About Nothing

What do you think?

Q & A

I don’t like sport. Why does this matter to me?
This debate can be extended way beyond sport. Which was the greater band: Queen or The Beatles; who was the greater writer: Charles Dickens or Jane Austen? There is no definitive answer to either question, so such arguments can be endlessly fascinating. They can lead us to examine our priorities, our values, and our outlooks on life.
How is Sports Personality of the Year decided?
By a public vote from a pre-determined shortlist. This year, that shortlist included 16 personalities, ten of whom competed at the Olympic games. Over a million people voted on last year’s award, which was also won by Andy Murray, with rugby league player Kevin Sinfield in second place and heptathlete Jessica Ennis in third.

Word Watch

Australian Open
One of four tennis ‘grand slams’ — the most important tournaments. The others are the French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open.
Rio Olympics
Great Britain won 27 gold medals, 23 silver medals and 17 bronze medals; coming second in the medal table, behind only the United States.
Chris Chataway
In a televised London v Moscow athletics competition in 1954, Chataway broke the record for the men’s 5000 metres. He went on to become a broadcaster, Conservative MP for Chichester, and government minister.
Isle of Man
The cyclist Mark Cavendish — the 2011 winner.
Just 13 have been female
The last female to win was Zara Phillips — a British equestrian and the daughter of Princess Anne. In 2011 the BBC caused anger by not having a single woman on their shortlist.
Five footballers
Bobby Moore (1966), Paul Gascoigne (1990), Michael Owen (1998), David Beckham (2001) and Ryan Giggs (2009).
One rugby union player
Jonny Wilkinson in 2003, when his drop-kick won England the World Cup.


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