Ronnie O'Sullivan hailed a watershed moment for snooker after being nominated for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Award for the first time in his career, writes Will Jennings.
The Rocket was crowned world champion for the sixth time this summer and has claimed 37 ranking event titles across a glittering three decades on the baize.
O’Sullivan, the current world No.2, crashed out of the current UK Championship against Alexander Ursenbacher but toasted a night to remember after making the BBC’s coveted final six.
“It was exciting to get the nomination. I grew up watching the award on the TV so it’s great to be part of the final six,” said the 44-year-old, who is joined by Lewis Hamilton, Stuart Broad, Holly Doyle, Jordan Henderson and Tyson Fury on the shortlist.
“Anything like this is great for snooker, so I’m happy to be able to be in a position to be even nominated. If helps snooker and, grows the popularity and elevates snooker, then that’s fantastic and I’m honoured.
“I think it was more like snooker has become a less important sport than other sports, and in some ways this is not just about being the best sportsman, but being in the right sport at the right time.
“Maybe that was the reason why I never got nominated before so for snooker, to have a snooker player nominated, is good for snooker as well, I think.
“People that didn’t know snooker knew Steve Davis, and hopefully snooker can get back to those days where the players are known not just by the snooker fans.
“I’ll be at home watching it – I’ve got a few things on at that time so we’ll try and make sure that we’ve got the cameras set up so at least if I do win it I can go cheers to the nation!”
O’Sullivan was memorably crowned king of the Crucible this summer and has enjoyed a storied career on the globetrotting snooker circuit.
Seven UK Championships and seven Masters titles have accompanied his six Sheffield crowns but the Rocket has never previously been nominated for the BBC’s end of year gong.
Six-time world champion Steve Davis won the award in 1988, while seven-time winner Stephen Hendry and the great Alex Higgins finished second in 1990 and 1982 respectively.
Fellow 2020 contender Hamilton was crowned Formula One world champion for a record-equalling seventh time this season, while Broad enjoyed a summer to remember for England’s cricket team with a string of stunning performances against West Indies and Pakistan.
Jockey Doyle had a searing season in the saddle and broke the record for the most winners ridden by a woman in a year, while Henderson led Liverpool to their first Premier League title for 30 years and Fury toppled Deontay Wilder in a Las Vegas thriller to claim the world heavyweight title.
O’Sullivan knows he’s in glittering company but reckons it’s Fury, not favourite Hamilton, who sits in pole position for the coveted crown.
“There’s some amazing people in there – amazing athletes that have done some brilliant things, so just to be in the running is fantastic,” he added.
“I’m just excited – at least I’ll have an interest in watching this year in many ways.
“I lived in Liverpool so I have a great love for Liverpool and I know how much the football team means to the fans and everyone in Liverpool. For them to win the Premier League last year, and obviously the Champions League the year before, Klopp’s done an unbelievable job and for Henderson, it would be great.
“But for me, Tyson Fury’s the standout. He’s a gladiator of sport and he’s come back and is the real rocky. He’s a proper fighter’s fighter so he’s the superstar for me.
“It would be nice to join the Nugget [Steve Davis winning it in 1988] – he was a hero of mine growing up, and I’d have been 13 then!
“He was a huge man in the 80s and so was Hendry as well, so it’s nice to get on the list.”