Bradley Wiggins won the Sports Personality of the Year award last night. He was the first Briton to win the Tour de France, and followed it up 9 days later with a gentle peddle to win the Gold medal in the Olympic time trial. He was my hero, before the Olympics, and remained it afterwards. He beat Andy Murray, our first grand slam winner for a million odd years, and Jessica Ennis, who for years has lived under the cloud of expectation, that seemed to assert that as she is both hugely talented, and also has a nice smile, that it was destiny to win the heptathlon in London. Have a look at footage from the moment she crossed the line in the final race of the event: was that joy or relief that we saw flicker across her face?
Across several hours of saccharine, and late running reminiscence of the last year of sport, clear themes emerged: people are emerging from a dream-like state, and it was clear that many of these sports men and women are starting to wonder whether it happened at all. Pain, sacrifice and support all emerged as prevalent sentiments. I particularly enjoyed the phlegmatic Brownlee brothers talking about how they had gone running for a couple of hours that morning, not because they wanted to run for a particularly long time, but because they got lost in West London, and decided to carry on until they found somewhere that they recognised.
But perhaps what was most telling was how many people cried. Even Teflon Coe delivered his elegantly smooth speech with tears in his eyes. This stuff matters.
But why? It's just sport. But that's the point. It matters because it is defined as a personal test. Without distraction, sport is the arena in which you show yourself how far you can go, how hard you can push yourself, and how well you can handle the pressure. Those elite sports men and women we celebrated last night had laid themselves open to scrutiny, to the risk of failure, and won. I imagine they found out things about themselves that they never knew: they discovered limits, new heights, new resolve and performances that at times they must have doubted they had.
It is the purity of sport that makes it so engaging. At an amateur level, we compete and play because it is fun, because it keeps us fit, and because it allows us to vent our competitive spirits. At an elite level, they compete to win. And we watch them, because we want to see them win.
The concept of plucky British losers is a fiction. That is the explanation given after the event of people who lost because they did not prepare well enough.
And this I think is the legacy from this year of sporting triumph: preparing hard does not guarantee you will win, but without it, you are unlikely to shine. Winning is not everything, but giving a good account of yourself means a huge amount. There is glory in winning, but more importantly, there is glory in giving yourself up to be as good as you can be, however far that takes you.