Sports Personality of the Year 2011 front-runners

Sports Personality of the Year 2011 logo
Sports Personality of the Year 2011 will be held in Salford on Thursday, 22 December.

When AP McCoy held the Sports Personality of the Year (SPOTY) trophy aloft in Birmingham last December, the 15-time champion jump jockey said he felt "humbled".

McCoy became the first jockey to win the BBC accolade after claiming nearly 42% of the vote, beating darts legend Phil Taylor into second place and heptathlon star Jessica Ennis into third.

In three months' time 10 contenders will once again face a public vote to see who will be crowned the Sports Personality of the Year for 2011.

The top 10 will be decided by a selection of leading newspaper and magazine sport editors who submit their nominations each year.

Based on the bookmakers' favourites, and in alphabetical order, BBC Sport takes a look at some of the stars who could find themselves in with a chance of winning the award on Thursday, 22 December.

REBECCA ADLINGTON - SWIMMING

Rebecca Adlington
Adlington will be one of Britain's best hopes at London 2012

Rebecca Adlington once again proved she is one of the world's top swimmers this year, producing a stunning sprint finish to win gold in the 800m freestyle at the World Championships in Shanghai in July.

The 22-year-old double Olympic champion also won silver in the 400m at the Worlds and looks to be going into the 2012 Olympics in fine form.

SPOTY verdict: Rebecca came third at Sports Personality of the Year in 2008 after her success at the Beijing Olympics - and the popular Nottinghamshire swimmer could well be in the mix again this year.

MARK CAVENDISH - CYCLING

Mark Cavendish
Cavendish has won more Tour de France stages than any other Briton

Mark Cavendish finally recognised one of his dreams when he became Britain's first winner of the Tour de France green jersey - the award for the race's best sprinter.

Manxman Cavendish, who has now won 20 stages of the race in his career crowned his victory by winning a frenetic sprint finish on the Champs-Elysees.

Cavendish's stage win in Paris followed similar successes there in 2009 and 2010, making him the first man to have won three final stages in succession since the legendary Belgian Eddy Merckx in 1972.

SPOTY verdict: The Manx missile was unstoppable in France and proved he is the fastest sprinter in the world. He came fourth at SPOTY in 2009 and has the potential to go further this time around.

DARREN CLARKE - GOLF

Darren Clarke
Glory at the Open was the highlight of Darren's year

Darren Clarke kept his nerve to clinch his maiden major title with a three-shot victory in the Open at Royal St George's.

The 43-year-old fired a final-round 70 to finish five under to hold off Americans Phil Mickelson (68) and Dustin Johnson (72).

Clarke, playing in his 20th Open Championship, became the first winner from the UK since Paul Lawrie in 1999 and the first man from Northern Ireland to win it since Fred Daly in 1947.

He followed in the footsteps of compatriots Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell who both won their first majors at the US Open this year and last, respectively.

SPOTY verdict: Clarke came second at SPOTY in 2006 after his Ryder Cup heroics, but could the Irishman continue to make this a year of firsts?

ALASTAIR COOK - CRICKET

Alastair Cook
Captain Cook has had an impressive year with England

It has been an incredible year for Alastair Cook as the England batsman turned his form around to become a key part of the England side which won the Ashes Down Under on the way to becoming the number one Test team in the world.

The 26-year-old scored 766 runs across the five Ashes Tests to earn the Man of the Series award.

This summer he made a mammoth 294 against India at Edgbaston.

Cook's form was also recognised when he was appointed England One Day International captain - which he has taken to immediately, leading the team to a series victory over World Cup winners India while averaging more than 42.

SPOTY verdict: Cook is one of several cricketers who could be in with a chance of SPOTY glory after such a successful year for England.

MO FARAH - ATHLETICS

Mo Farah
Farah's tactics in the 5,000m were perfect

After winning two gold medals at the European Championships in 2010, Mo Farah proved he is the world's best 5,000m runner at the World Championships in South Korea.

The 28-year-old, who also won silver in the 10,000m in Daegu, held off the challenge of Bernard Lagat of the United States and Ethiopia's Imane Merga to take gold in 13 minutes, 23.36 seconds.

Farah's incredible performance was not only the biggest distance win by a European male since Ireland's Eamonn Coghlan at the Worlds in 1983 but the first long distance gold ever won by a British male at a global championships.

SPOTY verdict: Farah has made history in 2011 and put himself forward as a favourite for gold in 2012 - but will he be a favourite for SPOTY glory this year?

DAI GREENE - ATHLETICS

Dai Green
Greene will be in the hunt for the 400m hurdles grand slam in 2012

Welshman Dai Greene delivered Britain's first gold of the Athletics World Championships in South Korea with a scintillating performance in the 400m hurdles.

The Llanelli-born 25-year-old now holds the World, European and Commonwealth titles in the 400m hurdles and has his sights set even higher.

If Greene is successful in adding an Olympic title to his list of accolades next year he would be following in the footsteps of previous SPOTY winners Linford Christie and Jonathan Edwards by completing the athletics 'Grand Slam'.

SPOTY verdict: Greene will now be favourite to take gold at next year's London Olympics - but can he take the SPOTY title first?

RORY MCILROY - GOLF

Rory McIlroy
McIlroy overcame disappointment at the Masters to claim the US Open

Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy clinched his first major title with an eight-shot victory in the US Open - at the tender age of 22.

McIlroy became the youngest US Open champion since Bobby Jones in 1923 and the youngest major winner since Tiger Woods triumphed at the Masters in 1997.

It was an incredible comeback by McIlroy, as he managed to banish memories of his Masters meltdown, when he blew a four-shot lead going into the final day in April.

SPOTY verdict: McIlroy managed to march to his first major title at his 10th attempt as a professional, but will he be nominated for a first attempt at going for a SPOTY gong?

ANDY MURRAY - TENNIS

Andy Murray
The 2004 Young SPOTY winner has continued his solid form this year

Andy Murray has proved himself as one of the world's top tennis players once again this year, holding on to his world number four ranking.

The 24-year-old has battled with the biggest stars in tennis, reaching the final of the Australian Open and the semi-finals of the French Open, US Open and Wimbledon.

The Scot has put in a strong end to the year with victory at the Cincinnati Masters and the 24-year-old could yet win big at the ATP World Tour Finals.

SPOTY verdict: Murray is still waiting to win his first grand slam title - but could this be the year he takes SPOTY glory?

OTHERS IN THE FRAME

With three months still to go until Sports Personality of the Year there are plenty of others in with a chance of staking their claim for a place in the top 10 list of contenders.

England's cricketers started the year in fine form, thrashing Australia 3-1 to retain the Ashes and claim a first series win in Australia for 24 years.

Captain Andrew Strauss has led his talented squad from strength to strength, with victory over Sri Lanka in a rain-affected series preceding a comfortable 4-0 whitewashing of India which led them to become the number one Test side in the world.

Keri-Anne Payne
Payne became the first British athlete to qualify for the 2012 Olympics

Alongside the leadership of Strauss, key to England's success against India was the form of England Twenty20 captain Stuart Broad, who ended the series having scored 182 runs and taken 25 wickets.

After a storming start to the Premier League season, England striker Wayne Rooney has been compared to Brazilian legend Pele by his Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson. United legend Ryan Giggs won the award in 2009 and if Rooney keeps up his current run of form he could be in line to follow his team-mate into the SPOTY hall of fame.

England's Rugby Union side won the Six Nations in March, aided by Toby Flood who top-scored with 50 points and Chris Ashton who was the tournament's top try scorer with six - but how the duo perform at the Rugby Word Cup in New Zealand could determine whether they enter the SPOTY race.

Keri-Anne Payne became the first British athlete to qualify for the 2012 Olympic Games in London when she won the gold medal in the 10k open water event at the World Championships in Shanghai.

At the World Athletics Championships the GB team claimed medals in several events as Jessica Ennis won silver in the heptathlon, Phillips Idowu took silver in the triple jump, Hannah England claimed a surprise silver in the 1500m and Andy Turner grabbed bronze in the 110m hurdles.

Beth Tweddle retained her European uneven bars title at the championships in Berlin in April and could end the year with more golden glory when she competes at the World Championships in October.

Carl Froch lands a punch in a hard-fought fight
Froch could win the Super Six tournament in October

The Brits have proved they are the world's best triathletes in 2011 - with the Brownlee brothers dominating the men's competition. Alistair Brownlee was crowned world champion in September, while his brother Jonathan came second. Meanwhile, Welsh triathlete Helen Jenkins clinched the World title in the women's triathlon competition.

Elsewhere, Jenson Button has battled gamely for McLaren in Formula 1. While a championship wins looks unlikely due to the complete dominance of Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel, Button could pip Ferrari's Fernando Alonso to second place during the closing stages of the season.

In Cycling Chris Froome and Bradley Wiggins became the first Brits to stand on a grand tour podium in more than 23 years, as Froome took second and Wiggins third for Team Sky at the Vuelta a Espana. Robert Millar was the last Briton to have earned a grand tour podium spot, at the 1987 Giro d'Italia.

WBC super-middleweight champion Carl Froch reached the final of the Super Six tournament by defending his title with a majority decision win over Glen Johnson. The Nottingham boxer will now face Andre Ward of the United States in the Super Six final. Victory would make Froch one of the best British boxers of his generation.

However, Amir Khan may disagree. The Bolton fighter said the boxing masterclass he produced to knock out Zab Judah in five rounds in their light-welterweight unification fight in Las Vegas in July proved beyond doubt to many that he is Britain's premier fighter. Khan is likely to still be two or three more fights away from taking on American legend Floyd Mayweather but his stock is rising all the time.

Luke Donald beat Lee Westwood in a play-off to win the PGA Championship at Wentworth and overtake his countryman as the world's number one golfer.

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