Voting is now open for the SJA2018 British Sports Awards sponsored by The National Lottery. As far as JON BATHAM is concerned, there is only one contender for sportsman and that’s Mark Williams.
In a year not short of candidates for the SJA Sportsman of the Year award, please indulge me a moment while I go a little left field and put the case for world snooker champion Mark Williams.
The ‘Welsh potting machine’ claimed a third world crown in 2018, a full 15 years after the 2003 triumph which earned him an MBE in the Queens Birthday Honours list the following year.
He did it the hard way, first winning a marathon semi-final against Barry Hawkins 17-15, where he led for the first time at 16-15.
Then came an epic final against John Higgins, where he saw leads of 14-7 and 15-10 erased before rallying to win 18-16 in a night of sporting theatre at The Crucible in Sheffield.
At 43 he was the second oldest champion ever – only Ray Reardon (45) was older when he lifted the trophy in 1978.
Such a gap between world titles is unprecedented in a sport which produces an ever-increasing number of challengers for glory.
A glimpse into the championship’s history gives us a clue as to the magnitude of Williams’ achievement.
The last of Stephen Hendry’s record seven wins came age 30. The Scot packed away his cue at 42, 10 years on from his last appearance in a Crucible final.
FAMILY MAN (Photo by Linnea Rheborg/Getty Images)
And the legend that is Steve Davis was just 31 when he lifted the trophy for the sixth and final time in 1989. He would never reach the final again.
If that’s not all remarkable enough, Williams’ greatest achievement was the summit of an incredible 2018 renaissance for the miner’s son from Ebbw Vale.
Before this year Williams hadn’t won a ranking title since the German Masters of 2010-11. A similar barren spell saw Hendry quit the game in 2012.
The slump saw him fail to qualify for the 2013-14 World Championship for the first time in 17 years. He dropped out of the World’s top 16 the following year and was an absentee from the world’s biggest stage again in 2017.
Lesser men would have crumbled. After all he had been the best. Why carry on among the also-rans?
Yet 12 months later came his best sporting day yet and this in a sport where it’s very much you on your own. No teammates to bail you out – just you against your opponent and the balls in the smallest of theatres where the camera captures every moment of weakness.
So, let’s see: skill – tick, mental resilience – tick, longevity – tick. A candidate worthy of my vote. What about you?