"It was," said Bradley Wiggins, "the year to be British wasn't it." It was also the year to be a British cyclist and above all the year to be Bradley Wiggins, crowned last night as BBC Sports Personality of the Year to engrave 2012 as Britain's year of the bike.
Wiggins, dressed in a navy velvet suit, won the public vote – with more than one and a half million people voting – to succeed his former Sky team-mate Mark Cavendish. It is a nation's recognition not only of his historic achievement in becoming the first Briton to win the Tour de France and following that by claiming Olympic gold just days after parading down the Champs-Elysees in yellow, but also a personality, sometime edgy, sometimes unpredictable, always worth listening to, that was on full display last night. "I am not going to swear tonight," he said as he collected the prestigious award.
His win in the time trail in London was his fourth Olympic gold medal and seventh in all, leaving him alongside Sir Chris Hoy, also shortlisted last night, as Britain's most decorated Olympian. On a night that unfolded as an unashamedly red, white and blue wallow in Olympic and Paralympic achievements – apart from the 16,000 audience in London's ExCeL Centre greeting Manchester City's Vincent Kompany and Sergio Aguero with the Poznan goal celebration and the occasional sighting of a golfer – Wiggins finished ahead of Jessica Ennis and Andy Murray, who surprisingly pushed Mo Farah out of the top three.
"When they didn't mention Mo I thought, 'oh God, I'm not in the top three" said Wiggins. "I thought I was in with a chance but when you are up against Jess and Mo and Andy, you never expect it on a plate."
With Dave Brailsford, the guru behind Team Sky and Britain's Olympic team, winning coach of the year – not forgetting Yorkshire pitching a winning bid for the 2014 Tour – it caps a remarkable year for the sport in the UK. Globally cycling may be reeling from the impact of Lance Armstrong's unmasking as a drug cheat, but in this country it has never been in better shape, either at grass roots or elite level, and that will be recognised this week when the next round of funding in announced. They will be well rewarded.
The BBC released some of the voting figures last night. Wiggins got 30 per cent, Ennis 23 and Murray 14. The cyclist's margin of victory was just over 120,00 votes. A new voting system was used last night and there were complaints of people being unable to get through during the half hour the lines were open.
Europe's Ryder Cup team, who conjured that incredible finale at the Medinah Country Club, were overlooked for the team award in preference to the largest assembly ever to be so recognised. Britain's Olympic and Paralympic teams are supposed to be excluded from the award according to the usual rules the BBC apply for Sports Personality, but if the panel – made up of BBC editors, former Olympians and newspaper sports editors – are unanimously agreed they can make an exception. Between them the two teams won 185 medals, 63 of them gold, and on an evening that revelled in London 2012 it was difficult to quibble. It is the second time the Olympians and Paralympians have been so recognised, the other in 2000.
The other major winners of the evening had all been here before as well. Brailsford won coach of the year in the wake of the Beijing Olympics and four years on had that Tour de France success to place alongside 22 Olympic medals won by his cyclists in London for his 2012 CV. Usain Bolt was similarly a predictable recipient of the Overseas award, taking it for the third time for his historic double double in the 100m and 200m. He joins Roger Federer and Muhammad Ali as a third-time winner.
Seb Coe, without whom this summer may have had a very different gloss and probably a Parisian one at that, received a lifetime achievement award. Coe became chair of London's bid team in 2004 and a year later delivered an emotional presentation in Singapore to help the capital secure the Games for the third time, snatching it from strong favourites Paris.
"The man who has run the Olympics and the man who won the Olympics," said David Beckham as he announced the award. Coe chaired Locog, the organising committee, that oversaw the successful delivery of the Olympics and Paralympics. The award is also an acknowledgement for his athletic achievement as well.
Britain's youngest gold medallist from London, Josef Craig, received Young Personality. The 15-year-old from South Shields broke the world record twice – once in the morning heats and again in the final to take a surprise gold. Last night was another. "I didn't expect that at all," he said.