By Jake Beleski
The All Blacks will not be defending the team of the year award they won at last year’s Laureus Sports Awards, and rightly so.
They failed to secure a nomination in the team category this time around, and a quick glance at the nominees shows why.
It was another extremely successful year for the men in black — winning 13 out of 14 test matches — but the achievements of the other nominees are more noteworthy, no question.
They would have been up against the Cleveland Cavaliers (basketball), Chicago Cubs (baseball), Mercedes AMG Petronas (F1 motorsport), Real Madrid (football), Portugal (football) and the Brazilian Olympic team (football).
Football achievements dominate the category, but this award has to go to the Cavaliers or the Cubs.
The Cavs gave up a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven NBA finals against the defending champion Golden State Warriors, before a LeBron James masterclass brought them back from the brink and secured a 4-3 win.
It was the first championship for the city, across any sport, in 52 years.
But for pure drama and spine-chilling scenes, you can’t go past the efforts of the Cubs.
They broke a scarcely believable title drought when they came back from the same 1-3 deficit in their finals series against the Cleveland Indians, claiming their first World Series crown in 108 years with a thrilling win in game seven.
The sportswoman and sportsman of the year nominees are harder to separate.
In the women’s category, the frontrunners at first glance would appear to be Simone Biles (gymnastics) and Katie Ledecky (swimming).
The two American superstars both grabbed global attention with their eye-catching performances at last year’s Olympics, with both claiming four gold medals.
Either would be a deserving winner, but Biles takes it out.
The men’s category is the toughest.
Usain Bolt, Cristiano Ronaldo, LeBron James and Andy Murray could all make a claim to earning this award.
For me, it is impossible to go past Bolt.
The Jamaican flyer defended his 100m, 200m, and 4x100m gold medals in his usual relaxed style in Rio, and quashed any doubt that he was still the fastest man on the planet.
Ronaldo won’t agree, but there is something special about dominating an individual sport for such a long period of time, and doing so in such convincing and entertaining fashion.
With no All Blacks to support, let’s hope Kiwi swimmer Sophie Pascoe can bring home the sportsperson of the year with a disability award.
After three golds and two silvers at Rio’s Paralympics, she’s in with a great chance.
The winners are announced on February 14.