The Last Word: Year-end awards are in the air

There's something comforting about the start of December.

jeremy last new 298.88 (photo credit: Jeremy Last)
jeremy last new 298.88
(photo credit: Jeremy Last)
There's something comforting about the start of December. As the days get shorter and the nights get chillier, it can mean only one thing - the end-of-year sports awards season is upon us once again. The festivities began in high spirits this week when Manchester United's Cristiano Ronaldo finished ahead of Barcelona's Lionel Messi in the voting for the coveted Ballon D'Or awarded by France Football magazine on behalf of 96 soccer journalists (alas, this writer was not consulted). Also, this week, super-Olympian Michael Phelps was named as Sports Illustrated's 2008 Sportsman of the Year. Messi attempted to brush off the defeat by claiming he was more interested in winning team trophies with Argentina and Barcelona. But there is little doubt that the recognition bestowed upon an athlete by the media or his peers in the form of a significant award is something many sportsmen strive for just as much as winning league and team medals or trophies. When tennis star Shahar Pe'er was named Israeli Sports Personality of the Year by readers of The Jerusalem Post back in December 2007 she was gushing in her thanks, telling the newspaper: "Every time I hear about myself being chosen [for such awards] it makes me motivated to continue and work harder to do better. Your support is always touching and I feel that this support got me to where I am today." It only feels like a few months ago that Pe'er was on top of the local sporting world and a practical certainty to win the Post's top sporting prize once more. But how this has changed. When we launched the awards last year there was a concern that the same Israeli personalities would dominate each year, but this has proved to be far from the case. As we in the Post's sports department sat down this week to begin discussing the nominations for the 2008 Israeli Sports Personality of the Year award, it quickly became clear that Pe'er may not even make the final shortlist of six athletes. The 21-year-old has failed to build on her success and finished the year ranked 38th in the world, compared to a ranking of 17 this time last year. The same can be said of Israel's top male tennis player Dudi Sela who tumbled down to number 109 in the end of year rankings. However this has been far from a barren year for Israeli sports and sporting stars, and it will not be easy to whittle the list down to six athletes, as well as decide on the Team of the Year, Young Personality of the Year, foreign personality of the year and Coach of the Year. The success of both Hapoel Jerusalem in the cup and Hapoel Holon in the league has brought a massive change to an Israeli basketball scene which had previously been dominated only by Maccabi Tel Aviv. This, too, has thrust a new generation of athletes onto the sporting consciousness. This was also the year of the Olympics, with Israel's swimmers outdoing themselves in the pool, and surfer Shahar Zubari taking bronze in the windsurfing to take over where Gal Fridman left off. Things have also changed on the soccer scene. In the local league, Betar Jerusalem has fallen from grace with alarming speed while Maccabi Haifa's blend of youngsters such as Eyal Golaza and experienced players like Yaniv Katan may catapult them back to the top. And, while last year, Yossi Benayoun was by far the best performing player abroad, the Israelis in Belgium, such as strikers Elyaniv Barda and Omer Golan, have been far more consistent for their clubs than Benayoun at Liverpool this season. Beijing also hosted the Paralympics, which saw Israelis such as swimmer Inbal Pizzaro win medals for their country. There really are so many people and achievments to choose from. Over the next week, the Post's sports staff will come together to create a list of nominees and it will then be up to you, the readers, to decide who this coveted award will be presented to later this month. Get ready to vote!