Vote, vote, vote for Mr Oliver

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The Independent Online
AH, THE BBC Sports Personality of the Year Award - what happy memories these magical words conjure up. Each year we sit enraptured as Des Lynam chuckles and winks through 14 tightly controlled hours of edited sporting highlights, all lovingly garnished with repeated playings of Bruce Hornsby's 'The Way it Is'.

Whey-faced commentators, allowed at the business end of a camera for a change, top and tail clips from their chosen sports, pausing only briefly to chat to the specially invited audience of sportspersons in blazers, who squirm restlessly in their plastic seats, desperate for those free cans of light ale that have been promised them in the hospitality room afterwards.

And then, as the hours of the show stretch inexorably into days, the great ceremony itself looms. With a final flourish of nods and wry grins, Des announces the surprise winner, who steps forward with speech prepared to pick up the gong from whichever scandal- free member of the Royal Family happens to be in town that night.

So who will win this year? As ever, it's the public who decide, and so it's the public we can blame when they get it wrong. I myself have called the phone lines a mere 45 times, with 38 votes for David Gower, 4 for Dennis Oliver, 2 for myself (well, let's not be unduly modest here) and 1 for Vinny Jones. Sadly, none of these four are thought to be in the running. So what are the qualities that do separate the winners from the also-rans? In what looks like a very open contest, apparently trivial and peripheral factors could make all the difference.

It's all very well winning cups and races and leagues and things, but if you can manage to have a baby as well, you can pick up thousands of extra votes into the bargain. Liz McColgan won the award last year in name, but it's her womb that must take all the credit. This year Sally Gunnell has improved her chances immeasurably by getting married, and a pregnancy announcement this weekend could yet tip the balance.

Peronality. Generally a bit of a disadvantage, as the awards to Nigel Mansell (1986), Steve Davis (1988) and Nick Faldo (1989) have previously shown. Indeed, there's something mildly surreal about the whole notion of a 'personality' award being won by Nigel Mansell, but, as if to prove my point, the great moustache is a favourite again this year. If you do have to have a personality, make sure that its either that of the cheery good- natured thug (Ian Botham, 1981) or that of a slightly unruly chimp that has just been allowed to attend its first London Zoo tea party (Paul Gascoigne, 1990).

Not being a sportsperson at all. Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean proved in 1984 that you can win without being a sportsperson at all, although the possibility that this might increase the chances this year of Vinny Jones have been officially discounted.

An interesting tussle, then, whose result cannot be predicted with any accuracy. Faldo, Mansell, Gunnell and Linford Christie must all be in with a shout. As ever, though, there'll be no need to watch the whole programme, because, as ever, we'll all know exactly who has won as soon as we tune in. It'll be the one who has turned up.