With less than a week to go to the Olympic opening ceremony, the race for BBC Sports Personality of the Year (aka SPotY) is heating up nicely. Every 4 years the award is dominated by Olympic champions. You have to go back to 1996 to find a non-Olympic winner (Damon Hill, F1 Champion), though some winners are Olympians whose biggest achievement that year was outside the Olympics (Andy Murray in 2016, for example, won Wimbledon too).
This year, the pattern seems likely to continue. Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling surged to favourite status during the Euros, but have fallen sharply since the painful penalty shootout defeat in the final.
Dina Asher Smith is arguably the public face of Team GB this year, a literal postergirl for the British coverage of the games. And she is the current World Champion in the 200m sprint, with good prospects of winning. So why don’t I think, even at 6/1, she’s good value?
- She might lose
She holds the British record. She won the 2019 World Championships (plus 2nd place in the 100m). But she’s not a dominant figure like Usain Bolt, Michael Phelps, or Steve Redgrave at their peaks. Her rivals are running similar times to her, and in such a competitive field she is more likely than not simply to fall just short. If she doesn’t win gold, her chances are negligible.
- She might be overshadowed
Even if she does take home the gold, and I hope she does, she is just one part of a very promising Team GB. It’s entirely possible, likely even, that we have multiple medalists in track cycling or perhaps a rower win gold for the third or fourth games in a row.
Or, most simply of all, she might be overshadowed by a more charismatic star of the games. To win SpotY, Dina Asher Smith doesn’t just need to be a star, she needs to be the star.
- She’s a woman, and rightly or wrongly that matters
The BBC SpotY award is no an objective process, it’s a public vote. A shortlist is drawn up by sports journalists, but it’s a simple ballot following that. And the sports-voting public have given women a terrible track record for winning the award.
Of the last 20 winners, just 3 (three) were women. In the last 10 years? None. About half the time, a woman doesn’t even make the top 3.
Dina Asher Smith has proven herself able to muster some popularity. In 2019 she came 3rd out of a shortlist of 6. But this strong skew in the voting should not be underestimated, and has cost strong women contenders before. The clearest analogy to this year may end up as 2012, when Jessica Ennis (herself heavily promoted in the publicity for London 2012) came second to Bradley Wiggins (effortlessly cool Tour de France winner and Olympic Time Trial Gold medallist).
The favourite this year is Mark Cavendish, former winner and cyclist who has just tied the all time record of wins in Tour de France stages. Given the excellent track record (no pub intended) of cyclists in SpotY, this is probably fair. Having said which, the first two factors also apply to him and I do wonder if he is a bit short also. The Olympics really is liable to shake everything up completely.
I wish Dina Asher Smith all the best, both in the Olympics and the SpotY vote if she is shortlisted. But I won’t be betting on her, and I don’t think she is even 15% likely to win it. So much could go wrong for her, and even if it doesn’t it’s hardly hers for the taking. I’ll be cheering her on when she races, but am comfortable having laid her on the betting markets.
Pip Moss posts on Political Betting as Quincel. He has laid Dina Asher Smith to win SpoTY at just under 8/1. You can follow him on Twitter at @PipsFunFacts