THERE are five worthy candidates for our top category this week – Sports Personality of the Year sponsored by Bullivant Media – and their fate lies in your hands. All our contenders have had a sporting year to be proud of. They have all delivered ‘on the pitch’ and have all represented their sports – and the two counties – with dignity and style. Read our profiles and make your decision. Your online votes will decide who gets to pick up the trophy on the awards night at Worcester Warriors’ Sixways home on November 4. To vote visit www.morethansport.com and see the voting panel on the left hand side. One vote per person.
REDDITCH cycling star Beth Crumpton has enjoyed a highly successful 2014, announcing herself on the Commonwealth and world stages in cross country mountain biking, writes Liam Moakes.
Having already retained her title as British national U23 champion in a one-off event, Crumpton headed to Glasgow to compete in the 2014 Commonwealth Games and against a much more experienced field she performed superbly to finish in ninth place in the women’s cross country mountain biking event.
Not content with that impressive feat, the closing stages of the year saw 20-year-old Crumpton in action on the world stage as she returned to World Cup action in both America and France, whilst sandwiched in between was the British National Series finale at Cannock, where victory in the fifth and final race saw the Redditch ace secure the overall title.
This accolade was of particular delight to Crumpton, who said: “To have won the Elite/U23 combined National Series as an U23 rider in only my second year is a major achievement and I am very proud of that.
“It was a goal of mine at the start of the year to win the National Series crown and, coming off the back of finishing in the top ten in the Glasgow Commonwealth Games, it capped an excellent summer.”
The final World Cup of the year took place in France where Crumpton came agonisingly close to achieving another season goal of hers – to claim a top five finish in a World Cup race.
“I was riding fifth all the way but suffered a puncture on the last lap and ended up finishing seventh, but this was still an excellent result for me and proved a lot to me about my ability to compete with the best at an U23 World Cup.” added Crumpton.
“It was a really tough course as well and there’s so many positives I can take from that.”
The season continued with the World Championships in Norway where more bad luck struck Crumpton, who was taken out by a German competitor early in the race, leaving her to play catch-up to eventually claim a 17th placed finish.
Crumpton said: “I was very grumpy after that race! I had high hopes of a top ten result at least and that early collision basically finished that race for me, but that’s the nature of this sport and you just have to pick yourself up and go again – quite literally!
“It all adds to my experience and I always try and take the positives from any situation, however hard it may seem at the time.”
Crumpton was then back in action in Europe when she headed to Germany to conclude her season with a very pleasing tenth place at the Bundesliga Cup in Bad Salzdetfurth amongst a classy field of Elite World Cup standard level riders.
Crumpton revealed after her Commonwealth Games experience at Cathkin Braes that she had realistic hopes of clinching a place in the Great Britain squad for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro and, provided GB can first qualify a place or two, then her experiences and successes of 2014 could go a long way towards helping her book her place on the plane to Brazil.
This week Crumpton was reinducted on to the British Cycling Olympic Academy Programme in preparation for 2015, when she will continue to put both Redditch and Worcestershire on the global sporting map.
FROM the highs of making his England debut to the lows of seeing his beloved Worcester Warriors fail to avoid the drop, Chris Pennell has had what he described as a rollercoaster 2014, writes Geoff Berkeley.
But, for all the ups and downs for club and country, his performances remained on a consistently high level. The 27-year-old played every minute of Warriors’ Aviva Premiership campaign and hardly put a foot wrong. At times it felt like he was on a one-man mission to keep Worcester afloat as he made countless yards, numerous try-saving tackles and even went from being a part-time goal-kicker to having Warriors’ most reliable boot.
Despite all his heroics, though, Worcester’s relegation was confirmed on Saturday, May 3 after Saracens condemned his team to a 20th defeat of the season, which was a hammer blow for the full back.
“It was heart-breaking.” said Pennell. “To put so much effort in every week and to not be rewarded is tough to take.
“But ultimately that is professional rugby. You have to get your head around it pretty quickly and focus on what is next.”
And his next challenge came sooner than most of his Warriors team-mates as he was named in England’s touring party to New Zealand. Although it did not go well for Stuart Lancaster’s men as the All Blacks won the series 3-0, Pennell had the time of his life.
The Sixways star made his debut when he came on in the final minute of England’s first Test before rounding off a superb individual display with a try in a non-cap match against the Crusaders.
“It was an incredible environment to be a part of and I feel massively privileged to have been there.” he said.
“I learnt a huge amount and I now know that I am good enough to compete at that level. Also, now I have had a taste, I have got a real desire and hunger to get more of it.”
With dreams of making next year’s World Cup squad now at the forefront of his mind, it would have been easy for Pennell to find himself a new club, which offered top flight rugby.
But, instead, the former Worcester academy ace decided to stay put and help Warriors achieve their long-term ambitions.
“I am confident that, four or five years from now, we will be right up there competing with the top sides in Europe and that is certainly something which I want to be a part of.” he said.
Even if he does realise those hopes in the future, Pennell believes the topsy-turvy nature of 2014 will still be difficult to beat.
“It has definitely been a rollercoaster year.” he added. “To finish it on such a high certainly helped soften the blow of relegation, which was a huge disappointment.
“To go on tour with England was massive, but to actually get my first cap meant the world to me, so it has been a strange year and one that I will always remember.”
EXCELLENT progress has been made this year by one talented Paralympian swimmer who is striving to finish her sporting career on an ultimate high, writes Nigel Slater.
Redditch-born Claire Cashmore continues to excel in her sport after enjoying a successful but hard-working schedule in 2014.
The talented athlete, who has done her nation proud competing in three Paralympic Games for Team GB, is currently putting in the hard yards at an altitude training camp in France, getting set for what is expected to be a vital 2015 as she increases her preparations to win gold in the Rio 2016 Paralympics.
And Cashmore, who was born without a left forearm, saw her preparations given a major boost recently when she triumphed in this year’s IPC Swimming European Championship.
Cashmore had a championship to remember in the Dutch city of Eindhoven by winning two gold medals – one in the 100m breaststroke and the other in the 4x100m medley relay.
The achievement was a stunning one for Cashmore, especially after showing on such a global stage she could compete against Russian arch-rival Olesya Vladykina, who since 2008 has been crowned the Paralympic World and European Champion.
Cashmore raced her all the way in Eindhoven and for the first time almost beat her to gold. An impressive outright victory may have been possible if the pool had been a few feet longer, but instead they touched the wall at exactly the same time, so both won a gold medal each.
“I really wish I was just that tiny bit faster.” she said after her memorable performance.
Pushing Vladykina so close has inspired Cashmore for their next race at the World Championship next July and ultimately when Rio gets the honour of hosting the Palaympic Games.
The European Championships also saw Cashmore triumph in the medley relay race, with the British team falling just fractions short of beating their world record set in Montreal last year.
Cashmore can certainly consider 2014 a good year following her previous achievements, most notably in London 2012 when she won silver medals in the S8 100m breaststroke and 4x100m medley race and a bronze in the 4x100m freestyle relay – spurred on by her home crowd.
Cashmore also won bronze medals in previous Paraylmpic Games in Athens – at just 16-years-old – and Beijing in 2008.
Away from the pool, Cashmore spends her time as an ambassador for disability sport and regularly gives motivational talks to children and adults as part of her roles with the Youth Sport Trust and the Dame Kelly Holmes Trust.
She said: “I am very passionate about sport, it gave me confidence during my self-conscious teenage years and I welcome the opportunity to help others get involved in physical activity.
“I hope that by revisiting the challenges and barriers I had to overcome to succeed in sport I will inspire young people of any ability to realise that, they too, can enjoy the benefits of sport.”
FROM unfulfilled talent to the name on everyone’s lips in little over 12 months, 2014 has certainly been a year to remember for Worcestershire all-rounder Moeen Ali, writes Gary Smee.
After a string of sensational performances with both bat and ball for club and country, the 27-year-old has even earned his own nickname – The Beard That’s Feared – a motto that is now scattered on T-shirts in grounds up and down the country.
Birmingham-born Ali was destined for great things at a young age. His potential as an explosive batsman was first shown in an U19s Test for England against Sri Lanka in 2005 when he smashed a 56-ball century and before that he blasted an unbeaten 195 in a 20-over game for his U15 club side Moseley Ashfield.
However, after moving from Warwickshire to Worcestershire in 2007, finding his feet in country cricket did not always prove to be an easy task for Moeen as his class with the bat was only seen in spurts and his off-spin only occasionally called upon.
The 2010 campaign could be defined as Ali’s breakthrough season when he made 1,270 runs at an average of almost 50 in the Championship and there were some on the county circuit who thought higher honours could await.
However, with Worcestershire suffering a couple of tough seasons in Division One, Moeen also found the going difficult despite offering his first real return with the ball in 2012 as he took 33 wickets at less than 30 apiece.
But his 2013 campaign put him firmly back in the forefront of the England selectors’ minds with the bat.
The left-hander racked up 1,375 runs at an average of 62.5 and, despite a number of critics saying good county form does not guarantee an England call-up, Ali’s statistics were too impressive to ignore and he was drafted into the squad for the One-Day tour of the West Indies in February this year.
Starting with scores of 44, 10 and 55 in the Caribbean, Ali was praised for his transition into the international fold, but a difficult World T20 Cup in Bangladesh followed and, by this summer’s Test series against India, question marks were beginning to surface about Ali’s place in the side – especially whether or not his off-spin was good enough at Test level.
However, those questions were put to bed in Southampton, as Ali took 6-67 to spin his side to success and level the series before his 4-39 helped England to victory in Manchester in the very next Test.
An unbeaten century earlier in the summer against Sri Lanka also showed Moeen had international qualities with the bat – although he will surely be looking to build on an early average of 31.77 in 2015.
Well spoken and polite off the field, there is certainly nothing to be ‘feared’ about Moeen Ali, but it is in the middle where he has earned his reputation to become one of the most recognised sportsmen in the country in 2014.
Sascha Kindred OBE
IN A SWIMMING career which has spanned two decades and produced 59 medals, Sascha Kindred OBE admits he still gets the same buzz now as he did in 1994, writes Jonny Bonell.
“I’m still learning.” he said. “Even though I have been doing it for so long I’m still learning, I’m still experimenting and I’m still trying to get quicker.
“I’ve still got the hunger for getting PBs (personal bests) and trying to win medals.
“Obviously there’s some mornings when the alarm goes off and you want to roll over and not get up, but I still really enjoy it and I have a lot of people around me supporting me.”
The Paralympian, who lives in Hereford and trains in Leominster, first took to the pool when he was just 11 and within four years he had made his competitive debut by representing the nation at Malta’s World Championships.
Kindred went on to scoop bronze in the 100m SB7 breaststroke.
From there the 36-year-old has gone from strength to strength, dominating in breaststroke and individual medley in major championships all over the world.
With a total of six Paralympic gold medals, ten World Championship golds, 14 European golds and a host of records broken along the way, Kindred has truly cemented himself as one of Great Britain’s finest Paralympic swimmers.
And he shows no signs of letting up. The past year has seen Kindred, who suffers with cerebral palsy which effects the right side of his body, reach new heights yet again.
Kindred broke his own personal best and even a European record in Eindhoven in the 200m SM6 individual medley on the way to winning a further three golds, two silvers and a bronze to add to the every-growing medal tally.
“With the Europeans, I was shocked by what I was doing.” he said. “I had injury problems leading up to it and to go into the Europeans and swim the way I did wasn’t expected.
“Six races, six medals, it’s not a bad week’s work.
“I’m one of the oldest swimmers on the team and to keep breaking personal bests shows I’m doing something right in training.
“I suppose I’m wiser so I know how to deal with the pressure and a lot of the swimmers look up to what I’m doing, so it’s a case of me trying to be focused and trying to stay ahead.”
Looking ahead to life out of the pool, Kindred, who received his OBE in 2009, admitted if he was lucky enough to make the Rio de Janeiro 2016 team he was “99 per cent sure” he would retire on the back of that.
“When I set out to try and be good at swimming I never thought I would make a Paralympics, let alone do 20 years and go to five Paralympics.” he added.
“I just pinch myself sometimes that I’ve had such a great career and it’s still continuing at the moment.
“I’d like to be involved in sport in some way (after retiring) and try and inspire the next generation to give something back to what I have loved doing over my life.”