After already receiving numerous sports awards as 2021 draws to a close, add one more to the list. This time it is the “BBC Sports Personality of the Year Lifetime Achievement Award.” Whereas the prestige associated with winning Time’s “Athlete of the Year” is rather self explanatory, I wanted to take the time to highlight this BBC award and why it’s one of the most prestigious of Simone Biles’ career.
For starters, this is a British award given out by British media that is supposed to favor the sporting interests of the United Kingdom. And yet they felt fit to make Simone only the 4th ever American to win this particular award. Thus furthering Simone’s legacy as an athlete whose greatness transcends nationality.
But the most impressive aspect of this BBC award is that it is not an award given to the best athlete in any given year. But rather, it looks on events of years past and chooses who are the all-time greats worthy of consideration. The award is relatively new having only been established in 1996. Yet its selections include Pele and George Best, two soccer players who rose to prominence in the early 1960s. Bjorn Borg and Billie Jean King two iconic tennis stars of the 1970s.
By winning this award, Simone Biles didn’t so much as beat out all the great athletes of the current era, but was selected as a peer amongst the all-time greats. It one of the most prestigious lifetime achievement awards in all of sports and typically given to those who have spent decades building a legacy for themselves. The median age of all athletes who have ever won this award is 49.5 years.
Simone Biles won it at just 24 years old.
She is 11 years younger than any previous winner and this particular award is a testament to just how much Simone accomplished at such a young age. It should also be noted that this is a mixed gender award meaning that in order to win it, it was felt Simone Biles was the most worthy athlete amongst both male and female candidates.
We all expected Simone to accomplish great things in 2021. But did we expect her to use her platform to call out sexism from ESPN which is the single most dominant media entity in the American market? What about the time she used her platform to organize relief when a natural disaster impacted her hometown?
In 2021 we also saw her testify on Capitol Hill where she looked visibly uncomfortable and it looked as if she hated being there. Yet she came anyways because Simone knew she had the most name recognition among all her sister-survivors and her presence mattered most. Simone put the needs of others above the needs of herself.
And then there was the 2021 Olympics where Simone showed courage, integrity, and bravery of an unprecedented scale when one of the most important athletes in the world provoked a discussion on where the line is between “personal safety” and “win at all costs.” Simone risked her post-Olympic financial opportunities, her status as one of America’s most beloved athletes, and even her personal well being as it was clear there would be significant vitriol directed against her.
Even though the general public overwhelmingly came to her defense, Simone still had to carry the burden of being scrutinized by those who didn’t. There were those scrutinized her every move. Not just figuratively, but very much “literally.” One television host who was vocally anti-Biles and represented a media outlet with access to 75 million homes featured a “body language expert” as a guest. The network replayed the tape of Simone’s post-Olympic press conference while the guest cited examples of Simone turning her head, moving her fingers and stretching her arms.
Whereas there were those who foolishly thought Simone had given up so much by withdrawing from the 2021 Olympics, or that it would knock her down, this BBC award is yet another example that Simone’s decision to withdraw gained her a far greater legacy than any Olympic medal could ever provide.
(A) In 2019 I wrote an article highlight how amazing it was the Simone Biles won “Athlete of the Year” by the associated press. It currently looks like an afterthought considering the awards Simone Biles has won in 2021 that are so much more prestigious. I’m leaving the link here so people can read it and reflect on just how much the legend of Simone Biles has grown since 2021.
(B) This is not the same award as the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Award that Olga Korbut won in 1972 and Nadia Comaneci won in 1976. They won an award for being the top athlete (male or female) of a particular year. Simone Biles won this very same award back in 2016. What Simone Biles won in 2021 was a lifetime achievement award rewarding a full career of success.
(C) Special thanks to Hilary Evans who first notified me of this award and the list of all winners can be found here.