Second place in our search for Yorkshire’s Sports Hero of 2013, as voted for by you, goes to Tom Sykes. Nick Westby reports.
It takes a lot to induce a hard man on a motorbike, who is nicknamed ‘the grinner’, to shed a tear.
But Tom Sykes succumbed to emotion as he wheeled his Kawasaki ZX-10R through the warm-down lap at the penultimate race of the 2013 World Superbike Championship.
The strapping six-footer with a chin that could cut granite had achieved his lifelong ambition, and he was not going to let a little machismo stop him from allowing the poignancy of the day to overwhelm him.
Sykes, at 28, and 12 months after missing out on the title by an agonising half point, let the emotions overcome him.
“I was shedding a few tears on the slowing down lap, I was shaking,” said Sykes.
“I’m absolutely over the moon, so emotional.
“There have been lots of sacrifices to get here. Finally we’re here and what a feeling.
“Luckily this is our moment. I was so close last year. I’ve been waiting a long time for this and she’s finally here.
“Words cannot describe how I feel. I am very level headed, but since Magny Cours (penultimate round) there are moments where my mind started dreaming.
“When I was dreaming I had goose bumps and it was magical to even dream I could be world champion. But that was maybe two per cent of what I am feeling now after winning the title.”
The British public love a hard worker.
They love an honest guy who puts himself through the pain barrier to reach his goal.
They also appreciate a man who accepts defeat with good grace.
“Obviously there is a massive disappointment on one hand because we were only half a point from the world championship,” he said after the 2012 season.
“But on the other hand, being realistic, we are very happy and we have, by far, overachieved on expectations this year.”
Instead of using that near-miss as a hard-luck story, Sykes used it to fuel his determination to win the title in 2013.
Sykes won nine of 27 races this year, finished on the podium another nine times, started on pole eight times and set 13 fastest laps.
He won the world title convincingly, having taken over the leadership of the standings in the late summer and never relinquishing it thereafter.
That triumph, and his journey from the British Superstock Championship a decade ago all the way to the top of the world, is why he received so many votes from you, our readers, in this year’s search for Yorkshire’s Sports Hero of 2013.
Sykes has finished second after garnering almost 20 per cent of the vote. Readers were invited to vote for their favourite from an extensive list of candidates, for their chance to win two tickets to a day of hospitality to the third Test between England and Sri Lanka at Headingley in June 2014, a prize presented in association with Yorkshire County Cricket Club. It is a staggering amount of votes for a person who plies his trade in a sport that receives little maintstream media attention. But it illustrates the measure of the man and size of the accomplishment.
Of the people who voted for Sykes, the reasons why were summed up by Ian Burgess, who tweeted: “Tom Sykes should win it hands down for his hard work and dedication over the past few years”.
The question now is how far can this affable, down-to-earth Yorkshireman go?
The tee-totaller will have the No 1 plate on his Kawasaki for the 2014 season, but will he have more luck than his fellow Yorkshireman James Toseland in defending his title?
Sheffield’s Toseland was twice a champion this century, but was unable to defend the titles he won in 2004 and 2007. He was also not a great success when he moved up to MotoGP. That is something Sykes may look to progress to in years to come as Britain seeks a first champion at the highest level since the late, great Barry Sheene.
That this country has yet to unearth a rider of such stature underlines how difficult it is for people like Sykes and Toseland to break into the mainstream.
Were he ever to do so, the British public would discover a great sporting figurehead for the sport, whose tireless work ethic, drive and ability would have the potential to inspire future generations.
The man who wears No 66 has come a long way. What’s exciting is how far he could still go.
Our champion, and recipient of the award sponsored by Jackson Trophies – plus our competition winner – will be revealed tomorrow.