Mo Farah upset the odds to take the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award but his victory speech was cut short by a power failure on a night of drama and surprises.
Having recently moved back to London from the United States, where he has been based for several years, Farah did not attend the event at Liverpool’s Echo Arena.
The 34-year-old said this was because his young family has found the move difficult. Many in Liverpool were wondering if his previous failures to translate wins on the track to SPOTY votes had played a part in the decision, too.
And with heavyweight boxing champion Anthony Joshua a 1-10 favourite for the award on Sunday, it looked like Farah would be chasing a position low on the podium – his previous best being third in 2011.
But it soon became clear that this year’s show would not follow the script.
Speaking via video link from St Mary’s University in Twickenham, close to the Sir Mo Farah Athletics Track, his first interview with presenter Gabby Logan early in the show was completely upstaged by his son Hussein. Hussein grabbed his microphone before eventually being taken away by Farah’s daughter Rhianna.
Farah explained in a later interview that he could not hear any of Logan’s questions and apologised for “not being able to do two things at once”.
The British public clearly liked what they saw, though, as Farah struggled manfully with his wriggling child and missing microphone, smiling and laughing throughout.
But then, with the show already over-running and 7.5 million people watching, he was announced as the night’s shock winner by former Liverpool player and manager Kenny Dalglish.
Viewers at home saw him handed the prize but the screen then went blue.
In a statement, the BBC said: “At the end of the programme there was a technical fault at an outside broadcast caused by a generator failure.”
With The Apprentice final waiting, the programme then ended, somewhat abruptly, before the link came back up again for the audience in Liverpool to watch the interview with a clearly-stunned Farah.
Speaking after the show ended, via the same troublesome link, Farah said: “It’s incredible. To be honest with you, I never thought I’d win having come so close in 2011.
“Over the years, I’ve come third, fourth, or thereabouts, and I was like, ‘This thing is hard to win’. But I guess you just got to do what you’ve got to do and over the last 10 years I’ve been very lucky with the career I’ve had.
“I’m kind of shocked. I didn’t have any speech prepared.”
Asked if he wished he had attended in person, he said: “Yeah, I do wish I was there – it would have been nice to give something back to the people – but the most important thing in my life is my family.
“My son is ill and my twins have been sick. It’s been pretty hard moving back from the US – they’ve been struggling a bit and that’s why I couldn’t be here tonight.
“My son was actually in the other room, throwing up everywhere. But I do owe it to the public and the people who supported me – I just want to thank everyone who voted for me. I can’t stop staring at (the award).”
Three-time Superbike world champion Jonathan Rea, almost unheralded outside his sport and native Northern Ireland until now, finished second, just 3,000 votes behind Farah.
Para-athlete Jonnie Peacock was third, perhaps boosted by his recent appearance on Strictly Come Dancing, with Joshua just 18 votes behind him.
Swimmer Adam Peaty was fifth, ahead of two of the other absentees, Lewis Hamilton and Chris Froome.
There were no technical issues with their video-link interviews but Froome looked uncomfortable as he was asked about last week’s revelation that he returned a drug test with twice the permitted amount of an asthma medication during his winning ride at the Vuelta in September. He strenuously denies any wrongdoing.
The night’s other big winners were England and Manchester City prospect Phil Foden – named Young SPOTY for his heroics at the U17 World Cup, which England won – and the England’s women’s cricket team, who also won a memorable World Cup this summer. They were Team of the Year recipients.
Retired heptathlete Dame Jessica Ennis-Hill picked up a Lifetime Achievement award, while the parents of Bradley Lowery, the six-year-old Sunderland mascot who died of a rare cancer this year, collected the Helen Rollason Award, the prize given in memory of the BBC sports presenter who also died of cancer.