Up until a couple of weeks ago this had been the quietest of starts to a SPOTY year. England’s run to the Euros final and Mark Cavendish’s renaissance in the Tour de France have changed that.
Harry Kane (7/2) and Raheem Sterling (5/1) have replaced long term favourite Dina Asher-Smith (6/1) at the head of the market. Cavendish is in the slip stream at 8/1.
Since the start of the century British sportsmen and women have conquered many events that had previously seemed out of reach for many years. There has been: a two-time Wimbledon champion, multiple Tour de France titles, England cricket and rugby world cup wins, multiple Ashes victories, as well as Olympic gold rushes.
One prize for many though is valued above them all – a major international football championship. England are now marginal favourites (4/5) to beat Italy on Sunday night to win the Euros.
It would be the sporting highlight of the year leading to a likely domination of the awards on SPOTY night. When England won the rugby and cricket world cups it led to clear cut wins in the main award for Jonny Wilkinson and Ben Stokes.
The tricky part is pinpointing who such an individual would be if England were to win. Kane and Sterling have stolen the headlines throughout the tournament and are the most likely to impress on the night.
Kane is on 4 goals, one behind Ronaldo and Schick, so could finish as top scorer. Due to the tie-break rules he would need a goal and two assists to beat Ronaldo to the golden boot. Sterling is on 3 goals.
Sterling is 7/4 favourite to be voted by a panel as best player of the tournament . Kane is 7/2. It is this difference, plus a sense that there is more of story with Sterling – with him growing up in the shadows of Wembley etc – that makes him the more appealing option at the odds.
A European Championship winner who was player of the tournament would be a big vote winner on SPOTY night. Sterling also won the league with Man City which is a small bonus for him too in any end of year write-up.
It’s hard to be too confident – all sorts of drama could yet unfold – but overall he’s probably the most sensible pick as it stands, with Kane also worth a saver in case he denies Sterling player of the tournament.
But there remains a fair chance that England could fall at the final hurdle. Could Kane or Sterling then still win SPOTY? It would seem much more difficult.
Cavendish would then become a very interesting contender if he can level or beat the Tour de France all time stage win record of 34 held by Belgium legend Eddy Merckx. He’s currently on 33 and should have three more sprinting opportunities during the last 10 days of the Tour (assuming he can get through the tough Pyrenees mountain stages in good form). This is a record that has stood since 1975 and has long been considered near unbeatable.
Stage 13 is currently in progress (Friday afternoon) where it’s looking like a sprint finish sometime between 4 and 5pm – so there could be a real chance to level the record today. If he was to do so, his current SPOTY price would disappear.
There is also the last stage on 18 July, finishing on the Champs-Elysees in Paris, that looks suitable for a win. Cavendish has already won there 4 times and has the services of his Quick Step team’s lead out train who would be looking to deliver him to the line in similar style to his 3rd win in this year’s edition:
The Manx missile is a previous SPOTY winner in 2011 when he won the green jersey in the Tour and the world championship. Cyclists have an exceptional SPOTY record in recent times taking the main award 4 times in the last 13 years.
He remains a very popular character, his late call up and comeback this year adding to the appeal after battling Epstein-Barr virus and depression. He had long been written off by most as never to add to his last Tour stage win in 2016.
The complicating factor to all of this is the Olympics coming up in Tokyo – the opening ceremony is on 23 July. A classic SPOTY stat is that in any Olympic year from 2000 the SPOTY winner has won at least one Olympic gold (Redgrave, Holmes, Hoy, Wiggins, Murray).
Other factors have to be taken into account though in the assessment, including the strength of the opposition. There is also some doubt as to whether these Games will capture the public imagination as much as normal with them being played out without fans.
Asher-Smith would be a worthy contender if she could win gold in one or both of the 100m or 200m. She received a boost with the withdrawal of Sha’Carri Richardson in the 100m but still has tough competition in the form of Shelley-Ann Fraser-Pryce and Elaine Thompson-Herah. In the 200m American Gabby Thomas has been setting very quick times. DAS is 4/1 joint second favourite in it with Sky Bet.
Laura Kenny (20/1) is another obvious candidate. She has a chance of three golds in the velodrome. Such a haul would take her to 7 in her career and top all-time above Hoy on 6 and also her husband Jason (depending on if he can add to his 6 golds). This could be appealing to voters. The question would be who might win in a head-to-head with Cavendish.
Katarina Johnson-Thompson (20/1) in the heptathlon is another to keep an eye on although is coming back from injury.
The Olympics, and potentially Paralympics that follow, can also throw up more left-field contenders. As ever they will be worth carefully monitoring.
Overall, at this stage though, I think it’s worth some small bets on the non-Olympians given the history that could be made over the coming days.
* 0.75 pt win Raheem Sterling 5/1 Bet 365, William Hill (6/1 Betfred)
* 0.75 pt win Harry Kane 7/2 William Hill (4/1 Sky Bet, 888 Sport)
* 1 pt win Mark Cavendish 8/1 Coral / Ladbrokes 7/1 William Hill, Bet 365