SHOWJUMPING legend Nick Skelton has issued a plea to Herald readers after the Olympic gold medallist was named on the shortlist for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award.
The 58-year-old, who lives near Alcester, is one of 16 sportsmen and women up for the prestigious gong.
Skelton is now urging supporters in the Stratford area to get behind him as he bids to beat the likes of sporting superstars Andy Murray and Gareth Bale to the crown.
“If all of the Herald readers can pick up the phone and vote, that would be fantastic,” said Skelton, who won Britain’s first individual showjumping gold medal in Olympic history last summer.
“It’s great to find out you’re nominated, but it’ll be very tough. There were 16 people on the shortlist and with it being an Olympic year it makes it all the more tougher.”
Asked if he thought he could win, Skelton said: “It depends, you never know what can happen if enough people get behind you.
“It’s been a long journey of more than 40 years, so maybe we need all of the older generation voting — then we’ll be alright! I’ve been to so many Olympic Games now so it might be the older voters who could swing it.”
Skelton’s success story at the Games, riding the stallion Big Star, certainly captured the public imagination.
Not only did he bounce back from serious injury — a broken neck 16 years ago, persistent chronic back pain and a hip replacement — but Big Star also suffered several injuries since Skelton’s Olympic team gold at London 2012.
The story of his comeback would be more suited to a fairy tale and his son Dan, himself a successful racehorse trainer, is hoping his father’s triumph over adversity will inspire the public to pick up the phone.
Dan said: “It’s an Olympic year, so if you win a gold medal you are in with a shout.
“We need everybody to get behind him and get that local vote secured. It’s a niche sport, but (Tony) McCoy and Zara (Phillips) have won it, so it can be done.”
News of the Skelton’s inclusion on the BBC shortlist is another huge boost for the sport’s governing body British Showjumping, who say his gold in Rio has lifted the sport to new heights.
“This is fantastic news,” said Maria Clayton, head of communications for British Showjumping.
“The media interest surrounding Nick’s phenomenal win and SPOTY shortlist has been overwhelming and an extremely positive and beneficial one for us.
“Nick’s results in Rio have raised the sport’s profile to new heights. He has inspired people across the globe that you are never too old to participate in sport and you should never give up on your sporting dreams.”
A Facebook page has been set up, urging the public for Skelton to be nominated and has since been liked by more than 28,500 people.
Skelton is 66/1 with the majority of bookmakers to win the award. Murray is the red-hot favourite at 1/6.
Voting can be made by phone or for free on the BBC website. This year’s event takes place at the Genting Arena in Birmingham on Sunday, 18th December.