William Hill Sports Book of the Year Picked

The winner of the 2020 William Hill Sports Book of the Year has been announced. The judging panel chose to award Dr Grigory Rodchenkov’s astonishing memoir “The Rodchenkov Affair” the top prize. The competition was close though, as judges had to narrow down more than 150 entrants to just one winner.

A woman sits reading a book.

In a year like no other, the winner of this year’s prize could not accept the award in person, as he is in witness protection. ©Rahul Shah/Pexels

Olympic Doping Scandal

The William Hill Sports Book of the Year is always a hot competition, and this year proved no different. The contest was tight, but according to chair of the judging panel, Alyson Rudd, the winner of the 2020 prize could not have been clearer. “The Rodchenkov Affair” by Dr Grigory Rodchenkov was declared the winner, and will receive the top prize of a cheque for £30,000 and a leather-bound copy of his book.

Rodchenkov has become the 32nd winner of the coveted literary award, that recognizes excellence in sports writing. It has run since 1989, and is the longest running competition of its kind. Its generous cash reward also crowns it as the most valuable sports-writing prize in the world.

In a year in which the Olympics and Paralympics had to be postponed, Rodchenkov recounts one of the most thrilling stories of Olympics gone by. Grigory Rodchenkov is the former head of Russia’s national anti-doping laboratory, the Anti-Doping Center. After being embroiled in a state-sponsored doping conspiracy that helped to pave the way for Russian glory at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Rodchenkov has told all in a gripping memoir.

“The Rodchenkov Affair” continues the story told by Bryan Fogel in the Academy Award winning Netflix documentary “Icarus”. Rodchenkov tells of how he helped Russian athletes to cheat using a cocktail of steroids dissolved in alcohol. He also aided athletes in evading detection by swapping urine samples so that tests could be passed.

However, when the conspiracy was discovered and Russia was suspended by the World Anti-Doping Agency, Rodchenkov was forced to flee for his life. Now the doping mastermind and whistleblower is living in hiding. In a first for the competition, the winner was in witness protection, and so could not collect the prize in person.

Close Competition

Deciding who was the worthiest winner of this year’s Sports Book of the Year was no mean feat. Entries first opened for the competition back in February. As the year went on and new books were published, in all 152 entries were submitted. The longlist of fifteen books was announced on September 29th. Judges were then tasked with the difficult job of whittling that selection down.

The panel of judges for the 2020 award consisted of a broad range of experienced figures, from the worlds of literature, sports, media and journalism. Clarke Carlisle, the former chairman of the Professional Footballer’s Association was present, as was five-time Olympic medalist, rower Dame Katherine Grainger. Broadcasters John Inverdale, Danny Kelly and Mark Lawson also joined journalist Alyson Rudd on the panel. The shortlist was revealed on October 27th.

Rodchenkov’s publishers were pleased to receive the news that one of their most fascinating authors had won the award. Deputy Publisher at Ebury – Penguin Random House and editor of Rodchenkov’s book, Drummond Moir said:

“We’re thrilled that this unique book has received such a prestigious award. Grigory Rodchenkov’s memoir offers readers the full, unadulterated story that was first glimpsed in Bryan Fogel’s award-winning documentary Icarus, in Grigory’s own voice and words. He’s created a breathtakingly candid memoir, one that takes the reader on a journey through a rigged system of flawed individuals and moral choices.”

An Eclectic Shortlist

In all, five books were shortlisted for the William Hill Sports Book of the Year. The authors were Ruqsana Begum, Ian Ridley, Scott Ellsworth, Ashley Gray and the winner Grigory Rodchenkov. While they may not have been picked for the ultimate prize, each shortlisted author will receive £3,000. Ruqsana Begum’s book “Born Fighter” recounted how, in the face of adversity, she became a Muay Thai world champion. Forced to train in secret, Begum’s story is an inspirational one of strength, empowerment and the drive to achieve.

Ian Ridley’s “The Breath of Sadness: On Love, Grief & Cricket” describes poignantly how the author found comfort in watching county cricket after the loss of his wife. Another one for cricket lovers, Ashley Gray’s “The Unforgiven” tells of how, in the 1980s, twenty West Indian cricketers were shunned in their country after participating in apartheid tours of South Africa.

“The World Beneath Their Feet” by Scott Ellsworth tells the gripping tale of how, in the 1930s, climbers from the UK, Germany and the US raced across the Himalayas. While Ellsworth did narrowly miss out on winning this award, “The World Beneath Their Feet” was selected as one of the winners of the 2020 National Outdoor Book Awards.

Rodchenkov is now in good company amongst a historic lineup of authors that have won the prize. Last year’s shortlist was just as diverse and fascinating, with Duncan Hamilton’s “The Great Romantic: Cricket and the Golden Age of Neville Cardus” taking the top spot. Over the years, winners have included Nick Hornby, Brian Moore and Marcus Trescothick. Donald McRae has been awarded the prize twice, and Duncan Hamilton has won an unrivaled three times.

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