Once again the Olympics delivered. Despite all the challenges it provided its usual mix of outstanding performances, high drama and captivating stories. Team GB’s success, escalating as the Games went on, across a range of sports, added to the appeal for UK viewers. They finished 4th in the medal table, below their 2nd place in Rio but equal on 65 medals with London.
There was uncertainty about how Tokyo 2020 would come across without paying fans but there seemed to be enough spectators (athletes, staff and officials etc) at most events to create a decent enough atmosphere.
There were 22 Team GB golds but three in particular had the SPOTY markets scrambled. Breakfast time on the first Monday and Tom Daley finally wins a first gold at his 4th Olympics in the synchronised diving with Matty Lee – his price tumbling from 80/1 into around 4/1 (available at 160 and bigger on Betfair a couple of days before the opening ceremony).
After Dina Asher-Smith failed to qualify for the 100m final and withdrew from the 200m, Daley became the new SPOTY favourite.
The market settled down until Laura Kenny won gold with Katie Archibald in a dominant display in the madison on Friday. This, along with an earlier silver in the team pursuit, made Laura the most successful female Olympian (5 golds and 1 silver) and the first to win a gold at three successive Games. She traded as short as evens for a moment on Betfair and Daley was briefly forgotten.
Daley shored up his position by winning bronze in the individual event on Saturday morning. At this point Jason Kenny had drifted out to 100+ on Betfair. He had not been showing his usual big meeting form – he said he was ‘rubbish’ during the team sprint (where he won silver) and ‘struggling’ in the individual sprint (eliminated in the quarter-finals).
Suddenly, surprisingly Kenny then burst into life in the keirin final in the small hours of Sunday morning launching off the front to shock everyone. His gold was his 7th in total going clear of Sir Chris Hoy as Britain’s most successful Olympian of all-time. He became the new SPOTY favourite, also trading around evens on Betfair before settling around the 9/4 mark with the bookies.
The current market looks like this: J Kenny 9/4, Daley 9/4, Peaty 10/1, L Kenny 12/1, Lewis Hamilton 16/1, Mark Cavendish 16/1, Max Whitlock 20/1, Lauren Price 25/1.
The Kennys have made history and the titles of being the most successful male and female Olympians give them a certain gravitas. Jason’s overall record eclipses Laura’s so it seems right that he is shorter in the odds.
There are some warning signs around the likelihood of Jason winning SPOTY though. It has to be noted that in 2016 he won 3 golds, the most by a GB athlete in Rio, yet finished only 10th in SPOTY (Laura was 8th). He’s someone who generally doesn’t seek the limelight and is potentially up against not only Laura but also Cavendish who could still yet prove to be a bigger draw for cycling fans.
Could it be that the market is also overplaying the appeal of the historical feat to voters. After all in 2016 Jason had gone level with Hoy at the top of the all-time list. And Hoy himself in 2012 went clear at the top with his 6 golds in total yet only finished 7th that year (although he had already won it in 2008).
At this stage my feeling is the value lies in Daley. He has a long history with SPOTY being the only person to win Young SPOTY three times (voted for by a panel, rather than the public) in 2007, 2009 and 2010 (when he also finished 6th for the main award with 50k votes).
He has a huge following (2.3m Twitter followers), with a life story that is inspiring to many. The social media hits on his Olympics performances exceed his main SPOTY rivals and he was clear leader in a BBC poll of people’s favourite Tokyo 2020 gold.
His bronze medal in the individual event should secure him a place on the shortlist. Finally winning Olympic gold after all these years provides some of that novelty value that is key in SPOTY winners – he offers something different to his competitors that in some ways are hard to separate from each other. I’d expect a strong VT on the night, some knitting chat, and a desire among the BBC audience to vote for him.
In terms of the rest of the year we have the Paralympics to come which can always provide a good story or two. The world track cycling championships will also take place in October where it may be worth keeping an eye on the Kennys. There is the Ryder Cup too. Hamilton can never be entirely discounted if we wins a record 8th F1 title. But overall there may not be too much opportunity left for others to get involved.
* 3 pts win Tom Daley 9/4 Sky Bet, Betfred, Boyles, 5/2 Bet 365, 11/4 Coral / Ladbrokes
It will be interesting to see how long the shortlist will be this year. In 2016 it was 16 and 2012 it was 12. There is always the possibility of a big priced contender coming with a late charge.
I’d be interested to know if people think I’m being too positive on Daley’s chances as I know some are concerned he may not appeal to a typical SPOTY voter, please feel free to add a comment.