Sports Awards: Holmes wins BBC Sports Personality of the Year

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The Independent Online

If it came as a surprise that Kelly Holmes should win two gold medals at the Athens Olympics, her victory in White City last night, where she became the BBC Sports Personality of the Year, was a racing certainty.

Holmes, who is likely to enjoy further acknowledgement in the New Year's Honours List, was 50-1 on to become the first black woman winner in the award's 51-year history. The bookmakers were not disappointed as the public responded to the 34-year-old Kent runner's achievements through live voting in the final hour of the programme.

Matthew Pinsent, who announced his retirement earlier this month after winning a fourth Olympic gold rowing medal with the coxless fours in Athens, had to settle for a place that has been largely unfamiliar to him in his 12-year international career - runner-up.

Reflecting upon what turned out to be his final competitive appearance, he said: "I knew for four years that that race was the difference between being good and being great, I guess... what would life be like for us if we didn't win the race?"

Happily for this 34-year-old, that is a question he no longer needs to concern himself with. The crew, comprising Pinsent, James Cracknell, Ed Coode and Steve Williams, won the gold by the narrowest of margins as they held off the Canadian crew by eight one-hundredths of a second over the Schinias course.

Pinsent paid tribute to the British Olympic rowing team's German coach, Jürgen Grobler, saying: "That eight one-hundredths was down to him."

Such was the breadth and depth of achievement by sporting teams that, for the first time, viewers were also invited to vote live during the first hour of the show when it came to choosing Team of the Year.

A panel of judges had reduced the contenders to five - Arsenal, the England cricketers, Europe's Ryder Cup players, Britain's victorious men's sprint quartet from Athens, and the coxless four rowers who helped Pinsent depart the sport with a fourth Olympic gold medal.

Arsène Wenger arrived at BBC's Wood Lane Television Centre relatively fresh from his Arsenal side's eventful 2-2 draw with Chelsea at Highbury to collect the Coach of the Year award. The Frenchman received his trophy from last year's winner, Sir Clive Woodward, after guiding his team to their record-breaking 49 game unbeaten run.

Gary Lineker was not quite able to resist levity as he concluded his on-screen interview. "We hope you stay with us," he told the Arsenal manager, "because we have a very nice buffet afterwards". David Beckham contributed a specially recorded greeting to the winner of the Helen Rollason award, nine-year-old Kirsty Howard, who has already raised £3m for poorly children through her campaign, Kirsty's Appeal.

Recalling their first meeting, before the World Cup qualifying game with Greece where he went on to score the decisive goal, Beckham told her: "I walked up to you and you smiled, and for me that was what settled my nerves."

Andrew Murray, winner of the US Open boys singles title, received the Young Sports Personality of the Year award from the man who won the grown-up Wimbledon at the age of 17, Boris Becker.

The Lifetime Achievement award, in recognition of the impact he has made on the game of cricket, and also reflecting his subsequent monumental charity-walking activities, went to Ian Botham, with the trophy being handed over by his old West Indian rival and present friend, Viv Richards.

Roger Federer, winner of three of the four tennis Grand Slam events, received the award for Overseas Personality of the Year from Britain's Tim Henman.