In a stunning upset, Mo Farah beat odds-on favourite Anthony Joshua to win BBC Sports Personality of the Year after six years of being shunned in the public vote. The four-time Olympic champion, who retired from the track this summer to switch to road-running, had failed even to make the top three for the award since 2010. And yet to his palpable astonishment, he seized the main prize at last, despite having chosen not to attend the event in person.
On an evening when the pre-event form guide was shredded, with motorcyclist Jonathan Rea runner-up and Paralympian Jonnie Peacock third, Farah acknowledged that he wished he had turned up to collect the trophy in person but claimed that his son Hussein’s sickness had kept him in London. “I can’t stop staring at it,” Farah said. “We have amazing superstars in Joshua and Lewis Hamilton. I didn’t imagine this was ever going to happen.”
In farcical scenes, Farah, who was appearing via satellite link from a set at St Mary’s University, found that the video connection failed at the crucial moment, as he began to speak to the crowds here at Liverpool’s Echo Arena. Earlier in the evening the broadcast had been interrupted as his young son spoke over him throughout and interfered with the microphone.
For a measure of the shock, Gary Lough, Paula Radcliffe’s husband, and the man coaching Farah on his transition from track to road, was caught by amateur lip readers apparently mouthing the words “that’s a f------ joke”. It was not clear if this was in response to Farah’s triumph or to the technical gremlins.
Either way, this result was a colossal surprise, with Joshua, the runaway favourite after his vanquishing of Wladimir Klitschko, shut out of the top three. Not since Princess Anne beat George Best and Barry John in 1971 had there been such unexpected, if not bizarre, voting.
Farah had long since given up on the SPOTY shindig. After the indignity of coming only fourth in 2012, after he produced the defining moments of the London Olympics, he had shown little enthusiasm for making the 2½-hour train journey to Liverpool. The original unofficial explanation was that he had been too busy moving house from Oregon to the UK, given his imminent switch to running marathons. In absentia, he regarded this award as suitable recompense for an extraordinary career in which he had captured 10 global gold medals.
“I don’t know if I’m the greatest distance runner ever – I leave that to the public and you guys,” Farah said. “Haile Gebrselassie had said, ‘This is Mo’s time. I’m not going to always be on top of my game always, so this is my moment and I’m just going to have to make the most of it, enjoy it. I’m just proud of what I’ve achieved over the years. It’s been a long journey and it’s been up and down. But one thing that really drives me is that I enjoy what I do, and you can’t take that away from me.”
Clearly shocked by his defeat, Joshua did not take long to disappear into the night. But he did spare some words for his riveting duel with Klitschko, which catapulted him into heavyweight aristocracy. “It was tough, a lot tougher than I expected. The stage was set and we came together, we gelled well.” After Klitschko’s retirement – forced by the emergence of a younger, nimbler contender – extinguished any hope of a rematch, he has begun to target a confrontation in March or April against New Zealand’s Joseph Parker for his next championship belt.
In the circumstances, the BBC’s montage of Chris Froome’s year, narrated by actor Stephen Graham, felt excessively lavish. “Unflappable, unbeatable, untouchable” ran just some of the breathless plaudits, as the quadruple Tour de France champion found himself acclaimed as a “history man” and the “greatest of his generation”. While they were proportionate to Froome’s feat in becoming the first cyclist for 39 years to win the Tour-Vuelta a Espana double, they seemed misplaced after a week in which he tested positive for twice the legal amount of asthma drug salbutamol.
Froome, appearing via video link from Team Sky’s training camp, looked visibly chastened. “This is quite a horrible situation,” he said. “We’re working as hard as we can to get to the bottom of it. I do completely get it, I understand the concerns. I’ve been a bike rider for 10 years, so I know how some people might look at our sport. I’m an asthmatic and have been since I was a child. I have a puffer to manage my asthma, and I’ve never taken more puffs than I should.”
It was a ceremony marked by conspicuous no-shows. While Froome stayed out in the Balearics, Lewis Hamilton spoke from his sun-kissed retreat in Los Angeles. For all the glory of being able to call himself Britain’s most decorated Formula One driver, Hamilton has done the bare minimum of the awards merry-go-round, forsaking his induction to the FIA Hall of Fame in Paris in favour of attending a fashion event with Donatella Versace.
Indicating he still had the appetite to attempt to secure a fifth title, to emulate Juan Manuel Fangio, Hamilton said: “This is a lifelong dream, something that my family and I have been striving towards for many, many years. We just want to keep going.”
Jessica Ennis-Hill, once the perennial bridesmaid at each occasions after finishing second once and third three times, savoured the evening’s most sustained ovation as recipient of the lifetime achievement award. The 2012 Olympic champion blamed her tearful acceptance on stage to the emotion of recently giving birth to daughter Olivia. “I am overwhelmed,” she said.
By far the most emotive moment of the evening came when the family of Bradley Lowery, the young Sunderland fan who did so much to raise awareness of childhood cancer before his death in July at the age of six, received the
A fitting end to Mo's Team GB career
If only Mo had known that losing was the way to get the British public to vote for him, he might have done it sooner. #spoty— Ben Rumsby (@ben_rumsby) December 17, 2017
High praise for Mo
Before we lost him...
No Mo, but there we go
Farah shows no sign of reappearing by video link and that's the end of the show.
We're sure he's over the moon, technical glitch or no technical glitch.
And the winner of SPOTY is...
We go straight to his video link, which cuts out immediately.
Second place: Jonathan Rea
The motorcyclist is in second. So who wins it?
Third place: Jonnie Peacock
The para-athlete and sprinter comes in third.
Here we go. Kenny Dalglish will announce the results.
Rag'n'Bone Man soundtracks a tribute to those in the world of sports who have died this year.
World Cup winners
Having won the World Cup in that epic clash against India at Lord's, the Women's Cricket team were a shoe-in for that one.
Quick mention for Celtic, who were on the Team of the Year shortlist for their record unbeaten run only to lose 4-0 to Hearts earlier today.
Big Sam cameo
The Everton manager is here alongside celebrity Toffee Tony Bellew to announce the Team of the Year.
... and the award goes to: the England Women's Cricket Team!
Coach(es) of the Year
Benke Blomkvist, Stephen Maguire and Christian Malcolm are jointly named Coach of the Year, this after helping the Team GB men's 4x100m team to gold at the World Championships.
Overseas Sports Personality of the Year
... goes to Roger Federer, for a record fourth time.
The dulcet tones of Henry Blofeld
Blowers gets to talk himself out, having retired from the commentary box earlier this year.
Believe it or not, SPOTY has been decided. We just don't know who it is yet, annoyingly.
Jessica Ennis-Hill wins Lifetime Achievement Award
Time for a heady dose of London 2012 nostalgia and an outpouring of love for one of the greatest British athletes of recent times.
Well deserved, it must be said.
BBC 'Get Inspired' Unsung Hero award
Volunteer Denise Larrad is this year's Unsung Hero, having dedicated a huge amount of time to getting people fit in Hinckley, Leicestershire.
Denise works night shifts at a local warehouse but, nonetheless, leads walking, running, fitness and orienteering activities. There are a few tears of pride on stage, which nearly have the entire Echo Arena blubbing.
Anthony Joshua's missing suit
'Did Anthony Joshua forget his suit?' is the question of the evening, apparently.
He looks pretty good in a turtle neck, no complaints here.
Back to Noel Gallagher
... who's singing 'Love Is All You Need'. Tell that to Liam, amirite.
Best pictures of the night so far
Homage to the Lions
Nominated for Team of the Year after their drawn series against New Zealand, the Lions get the obligatory homage from Eddie Butler.
It's epic, obviously.
Voting is open!
With all the nominees introduced, you've got 25 minutes to vote for your favourite, if that's your thing.
Bianca Walkden and Anthony Joshua are up next, flooding our screens with a flurry of kicks and punches.
"My dad always texts me before [a fight] to say 'No mercy'" admits Liverpool native Bianca. If that isn't motivation, we don't know what is.
Mo Farah played in by Johnny Cash
The producers are going for a wistful vibe here, with Farah retiring from Team GB duty earlier this year.
Farah appears via video link with his kids alongside him, but his son isn't having any of it and bursts into tears before being gently carried off to bed, presumably.
England's World Cup wonderkids
Heralded by a slow jam from Krept and Konan, England's Under-17 and Under-20 World Cup winners (and Under-19 Euro champs) are praised to the skies by Gary Lineker.
Phil Foden is named Young SPOTY before dutifully thanking all his teammates, twice.
Anya Shrubsole acclaimed by teammates
Having helped England Women to World Cup glory with an incredible six wickets in the final against India, Shrubsole richly deserves the accolades.
Hamilton on screen, also via video link
This is marginally less awkward, thankfully.
"I definitely feel like I have a lot more left in me," says Hamilton when asked about how many more titles he can rack up in his career. "That [title] number five is now the goal and the target," he adds.
Froome appears via video link
The tone here is about as enthusiastic as could be expected.
Asked about his failed drugs test, Chris says: "I do completely get it, I understand the concerns... I know how some people might look at our sport." He reaffirms that he suffers with asthma and denies taking a higher dose of medication than allowed, lamenting "a horrible situation".
Chris Froome's montage now
The awkward moment can't be put off any longer and Chris Froome is on our screens, though we'll have to wait until after Lewis Hamilton's intro to hear the cyclist speak.
Tribute to Bradley Lowery
Moving words from Jermain Defoe and mother Gemma Lowery are followed by a presentation to the Lowery family.
"Bradley was only here for six short years, but the nation took him into their hearts," says Gemma, having lost her son to neuroblastoma in July.
Johanna Konta on the line
Having been lauded by Virginia Wade in her montage, Konta joins the awards ceremony by video link to talk about reaching the semi-finals of Wimbledon in the summer.
Could she be an outsider for SPOTY this year?
"Riding is my happy place"
Those are the words of Jonathan Rea, who enters the Echo Arena on a revving motorbike for good effect.
He's the first person to win three World Superbike titles in a row, which isn't bad really.
Elise Christie's intro up next
The champion speed skater talks about the heartbreak of Sochi 2014 and the online bullying which came about as a result, as well as her incredible success at the World Championships this year.
Recap of the year in sport
We've seen Serena Williams winning the Australian Open, Tom Daley diving and Manchester United winning the League Cup.
We're also being reintroduced to the nominees and their personal stories, with Peacock, Kane and Adam Peaty up first. Peaty's lion-themed montage was narrated by Charles Dance, which was frankly magnificent.
Nominees on the red carpet
Anthony Joshua, Harry Kane and Jonnie Peacock have all been snapped arriving at the awards, as have many of the great and the good from the wider world of British sport.
Hosts are in the house
"Hello Liverpool!" says Gary Lineker like an ageing pop star on a comeback tour.
Lineker, Gabby Logan and Clare Balding make up the SPOTY presenting team for the evening.
We're under way
... and Noel Gallagher is performing in front of the first inspiring montage of the evening. It doesn't get more SPOTY than that.
Froome unlikely to win
It's been a great year for Chris Froome, who won the Tour de France for the fourth time in July and also triumphed in the Vuelta Espana.
At least, it was a great year for Froome until news of a failed drugs test broke earlier this week. He now seems a very unlikely SPOTY winner.
The nominees in full
Welcome to SPOTY 2017
It's that time of the year again. We're about to find out who's won the BBC's Sports Personality of the Year.
From a shortlist of 12, there can be only one winner as decided by the general public. When voting closes later this evening, the tension will ramp up at one of the nation's most prestigious award shows.
The event begins at 6.45pm and will be broadcast live from the Echo Arena in Liverpool. Should you so wish, you can cast a vote for your favourite nominee by phone or online, with details of how to vote set to be televised later on.
Andy Murray won last year's award after retaining his Olympic gold medal and winning a second Wimbledon title, so it's a tough act to follow this time around.
Anthony Joshua and Lewis Hamilton are firm favourites with the bookmakers. Joshua beat Wladimir Klitschko in a much-lauded fight back in April, while Hamilton became Britain’s most successful Formula One driver after clinching his fourth title along with the sport’s pole position record.