Comment: Cavendish, a sportsperson with a personality

Mark Cavendish has made it into the final ten for the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year award.

Nothing divides sports fans like the annual BBC SPOTY awards, which in recent years has turned into a glitzy Big Brother, X-Factor, I’m a Celebrity-style public phone vote-a-thon.

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Where mainstream reality shows often allow the frequent viewer a chance – between careful editing, of course – to assess the subject’s personality, sport does not. An athlete is represented by their sporting performance – quite rightly – with most only getting a chance to air their personality in a breathless post-event interview.

It is this fact that makes the SPOTY award something of a folly. It’s good that the public should vote for a winner rather than it being left to a faceless panel of judges, but how should we decide who to vote for? Should we vote for someone based on their sporting performance? Or because we’ve heard of them? Or because they said something funny in the short interview during the show itself?

Cavendish provides the answer. He offers the perfect antidote to the usual sportsperson’s monotonal interview littered with ‘erms’ and ‘you knows’.

He is gracious in his victory, enthusiastically thanking his team-mates not because the PR man told him to in the pre-race team bus media briefing, but because he actually appreciates what they do for him.

When he loses, he can be brittle. His passion for his sport runs deep and when things haven’t gone to plan he’ll often speak his mind when a microphone is stuffed into his face. Ask for a comment, and you’ll get one. Straight from the heart.

His total recall of the final 1km of any race he takes part in is the envy of race reporters the world over, but most of all when Cavendish wins, it looks like it meant something. Every time. And that’s a lot. At 25, he is already Britain’s most successful cyclist in the sport’s history.

You can guarantee that he’ll say what he thinks and be sure of what he is saying. He’s as entertaining off the bike as he is on it. And despite all of the success and its distractions, he has remembered where he has come from.

Cavendish was one of the few top-level cyclists to ride in the Commonwealth Games men’s road race in Delhi this year. Whilst others cried off with fears of illness or terrorism, Cavendish grasped at one of the few chances he gets to represent his home nation, the Isle of Man.

A young and relatively inexperienced Manx team helped him as much as they could during the sweltering race, until only Cavendish had the legs to continue with the leaders. The relentless course didn’t really suit him, and he kept losing touch with the lead bunch only to fight his way back up again. Even in a race he didn’t win, Cavendish was there to provide the excitement. And the passion.

A few days later, Cavendish was seen in an Isle of Man T-shirt mucking-in with team duties during the time trial to repay his young team-mates efforts for him in the road race.

There are very few athletes from any sport who would do such a thing.

And very few that have a personality like Mark Cavendish.

Related links

2011: Cavendish on BBC Sports Personality shortlist

2010: Cavendish on BBC Sports Personality shortlist

Mark Cavendish: Rider Profile

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