Emma Raducanu has been crowned BBC Sports Personality of the Year on another history-defining night for Britain’s teenage phenomenon.
In arguably the most preordained public vote the flagship awards show has seen, the 19-year-old from Bromley became the first woman for 15 years to win British sport’s biggest popularity contest.
Raducanu, whose staggering run to US Open glory – dubbed the fairy-tale of New York – was one of sport’s great triumphs and was watched by 9.2 million people on Channel 4, scooped the glittering first prize ahead of Tom Daley in second place and Adam Peaty in third.
In doing so, she ended the show’s longest wait for a female victor after 14 successive male winners since Zara Phillips lifted the trophy in 2006.
Indeed, Raducanu was only the 14th woman to take home the main award since Spoty began 67 years ago, as well as the first teenager to do so since the turn of the millennium.
Raducanu, forced to accept a miniature replica of the winners’ trophy after testing positive for coronavirus while preparing in Abu Dhabi for the Australian Open, said: “I’ve watched Sports Personality of the Year growing up, so I’m really humbled to join the amazing past winners.
“Thank you so much to all the voters and all of the fans and support for all the support I received this past year. It’s been absolutely insane.”
Raducanu was rewarded for a maiden grand slam win that was among the most stunning in tennis history, one that saw her become the first qualifier to win a major title, the first player to win on their second main-draw appearance, the first British women’s champion for 44 years, and the youngest for more than 60.
Even more incredibly, she managed all this without dropping a set all tournament. 9.2 million were able to watch in this country because Amazon Prime Video, which had the rights, did a deal with Channel 4.
Raducanu’s triumph came less than three months after her WTA Tour debut and barely two since she first won the hearts of the nation at Wimbledon, where she became the youngest British woman to reach the last 16 in the Open era before being cruelly forced to withdraw with breathing difficulties.
September’s stunning success made her one of the UK’s youngest sporting millionaires and sought-after stars, attending the Met Gala and a James Bond premiere and being tipped to become the country’s richest athlete, partly thanks to her half-Chinese, half-Romanian heritage.
Speaking before her victory, she said she was still the same girl from Bromley, adding: “I feel the complete same and everyone near me is definitely the same and keeping me in my place 100 per cent.
“It’s been great how everyone’s been so welcoming and positive when I got back home and around. But nothing really changed in terms of my mindset.
“My parents are never ones to really make a big deal out of anything that I do that’s good.
“They’ve been normal: nothing too big; nothing too low. That’s just the way they brought me up.”
As well as beating Daley and Peaty to the main award, Raducanu saw off competition from Raheem Sterling, Tyson Fury and Dame Sarah Storey on a six-strong shortlist.
The other big winner on the night was Gareth Southgate after he was named Coach of the Year and England Team of the Year for reaching the final of the European Championship, the country’s first major final for 55 years.
Rachael Blackmore won the World Sport Star award after becoming the first woman to win the Grand National in its 182-year history and 13-year-old Olympic medallist Sky Brown was named Young Sports Personality of the Year.
The awards show endured arguably its most chaotic ever build-up following the emergence of the omicron variant of Covid-19.
Plans to film the ceremony in front of 500 of the great and good of British sport in 2021 were wrecked with barely a week to go as the event was effectively forced behind closed doors for a second straight year – with many instead taking part remotely from their homes.
That was after Telegraph Sport revealed top athletes had turned down invitations to an event held six days before Christmas Day because they would be forced to cancel their festive plans if they caught Covid-19 there – and also potentially if they came into contact with someone infected with the disease.
The release of the shortlist for the main prize days later was then completely overshadowed by the news Raducanu had tested positive and had begun a period of self-isolation.
That was on top of Fury repeating his threat from last year to sue the BBC if he was named on that shortlist and the even more traditional row about who had and had not made the cut.
Sir Lewis Hamilton led a stellar cast of 2021 sporting stars to miss out thanks to the corporation’s stubborn refusal to deviate from a six-strong pool of contenders in what was Olympic and Paralympic year – despite having done so in both 2012 and 2016.
Josh Taylor, who in May became the first Briton to be crowned a four-belt undisputed boxing world champion, posted on Twitter: “May 22nd 2021. First person in the UK to become undisputed world boxing champion in the four belt era and hold all the championship belts. #HistoryMaker shove yer Spoty right up a—.”
The omission of Hamilton, last year’s winner, was all the more perverse given the Telegraph has been told he would have been a seventh nominee had he not been cruelly denied a record-breaking eighth Formula 1 world title last weekend.
Cycling was the biggest loser in the Spoty stakes, with Jason and Laura Kenny and Mark Cavendish all failing to make the cut, despite equalling or breaking major records this year. The Kennys became Britain’s most successful male and female Olympians, while Cavendish joined the great Eddie Mercx on 34 Tour de France stage wins.