This feature started as a tweet late at night, a request for people to suggest their top-five sporting Scots of the decade. The responses came in a blur. Days after the original question was posed, they were still coming. Name after name, sport after sport.
A top-five became a top-20 and then a top-50. Asking for nominations was the easy part. Going through them all, registering each suggestion and then adding to the master-list proved challenging. There’s been about 150 different versions of this top-50. A rower moved up a place, a footballer moved down a place, a person coming in from left field to replace somebody who was in and then was out. All the time, the mind was driven that bit closer to distraction.
How do you construct a top-50 of the greatest sporting Scots of the decade? With great difficulty, as it turns out. It’s tough enough to figure out the chosen ones, but then to rank them in order from 50-1 is a task that tens of thousands of people might try but one that would surely produce tens of thousands of different outcomes. It’s fun, though. There’s no right way or wrong way of doing this. If sport resulted in everybody agreeing with each other then what a dull world it would be.
There are people on this list – not many, but some – who have won precious little in their careers but whose world-class talent demand that they be included. But where? How do you look on somebody whose star shone briefly in the decade but incredibly brightly? How do you rank somebody who excelled for years but in a sport where the competition wasn’t as hot as other sports? Weighting achievement across the sports is no easy business.
Is longevity a pre-requisite, or should there be a place for one-off brilliance? Where do you place an athlete with world championship gold medals compared to one with Olympic silver? How many footballers deserve – truly deserve – to make it? What about those who compete wonderfully but in sports with little following? How do we look on Para-sportsmen and sportswomen and their place in the overall scheme?
There were any amount of real puzzlers. Numerous times there was gridlock when trying to separate two people from the same sport with similar achievements. In that case, advice from an expert from that sport was sought. Normally, it went something like this: “I’d pick X ahead of Y and here are the reasons, but don’t quote me!”
The final list, then. Fifty names from 25 different sports. You may disagree with much of it, but consensus on this kind of thing is always over-rated.
50. Kenny Ross (shinty)
Shinty is shoved to the margins as far as national sports coverage is concerned, but there are great stories to be told and Kenny Ross is one of the best. A former Scotland international, a Scotland assistant manager, a player who made his reputation as a midfielder with Lochcarron before switching to keeping goal for Newtonmore, Ross has won everything there is to win. In the last decade, when his best days were supposed to be behind him, he’s won Camanachd Cups, MacTavish Cups, Premier Division titles and player of the year awards.
Ross will turn 50 in 2020. What we see in him is a man who adores his sport, who plays for the sheer love of it. You have to have talent to last as long as he has, but talent without passion wouldn’t be enough. He’s perhaps the lowest-key member of our Top 50, but he deserves his place all the same.
49. Hannah Rankin (boxing)
Her story is laced with tragedy and triumph. Rankin suffered the desperate loss of her mum to cancer in 2013 and used boxing as a way of working out the frustration and anger she felt while trying to cope with a life-changing bereavement. Already a classically-trained musician, she started making progress in the fight game. She competed for world titles on two occasions in 2018 but was never quite comfortable in the weight division and lost both times.
The Luss native would not be deterred. She went again and, in June 2019, went toe-to-toe with Sarah French of the United States for the vacant International Boxing Organisation super welterweight championship of the world and won an unanimous points decision to become Scotland’s first female boxing world champion. Her reign was short-lived – she lost her title in November – but nobody can take that history away from her.
48. Calum MacLeod (cricket)
Something remarkable happened in Scottish cricket in the summer of 2018 – the national team beat England in an one-day international. Not just any English team, an English team containing seven of the men that would later that year be crowned world champions in the most extraordinary circumstances, a team that has been feted ever since and will be feted for the rest of time. Jason Roy, Jonny Bairstow, Joe Root, Eoin Morgan, Liam Plunkett, Adil Rashid and Mark Wood were all World Cup-winners, but Scotland’s MacLeod stood above them all when the underdogs won.
Had this been a football match then the country would never stop talking about it. Finishing on 140 not out, after hitting 16 fours and three sixes off 94 balls, MacLeod put in one of the astounding performances, probably the most astounding performance, the game in Scotland has ever known. In August, he scored his 2,000th run in ODI cricket.
47. Maria Lyle (Para-athletics)
Aged 19, Lyle won her first individual major individual title at the world championships in Doha this year, a medal to go with all the others she has won in a glittering sprinting career. A world-record holder and double European champion at the age of 14, a world silver medallist at the age of 15, a Paralympic medallist at 16, she took gold in the 100m at Doha to end an outstanding decade with her biggest prize.
Lyle has cerebral palsy and spoke recently about the anxiety issues she has suffered along the way. It’s not just her talent that is inspirational, it’s her braveness in speaking about the mental health problems she has had to endure. As a youngster she has more chance of connecting with other kids of her age who might be suffering in similar ways. Not just a sporting star but an athlete with a very powerful message.
46. Mark Johnston (horse racing)
He might have made his reputation from his stables in North Yorkshire but Johnston is very much of Scottish stock, born and educated in Glasgow. He’s been training winners on the flat for more than 30 years and while most of his biggest triumphs came before this decade kicked in, he achieved something in 2017 that put his name in racing history.
When a horse called Dominating won at Pontefract in October 2017, Johnston secured his 4000th winner in flat racing, a number that put him third on the all-time list. For a trainer who has had to work ferociously hard to get the success that he’s had, that number of winners was truly astonishing and spoke to his brilliance as a horseman and his enduring passion for the game. He’s far from finished.
45. Sammi Kinghorn (Para-athletics)
The decade began in the most traumatic circumstance imaginable for Kinghorn, an horrific accident on the family farm in 2010 changing the course of her life forever. She was 14 years old and felt at the time that she might die. She spent six months in hospital. Her resilience has been nothing short of incredible.
Five years after her trauma, she announced herself as a Para-athlete to be reckoned with, winning bronze in the 200m at the World Para Athletics Championships in Doha. It was in 2017 that she really shot to prominence. She had already broken the 200m world record in Arizona and had broken European records at 100m, 400m and 800m before heading to London for her second world championships.
She did a magnificent double in winning golf in the 100m and 200m. Injury has interrupted her career since but she came back to the podium at the world championships in Dubai in 2019, adding another bronze to her collection. At 23, there’s every chance that more honours are ahead of her.
44. Paul Lawrie (golf)
All of Lawrie’s best stuff was done in the early years of the decade, with European Tours wins at the Open de Andalucia in 2011, the Qatar Masters in 2012 and the Johnnie Walker at Gleneagles the same year. Lawrie played that last event in an attempt to force his way into Jose Maria Olazabal’s Ryder Cup team at Medinah, which he duly did.
What happened in Illinois that September has gone down in Ryder Cup legend. Lawrie played fourballs on Friday and Saturday and lost on both occasions. Come Saturday night Europe trailed 10-6 with just the 12 singles left to play. Europe needed a flying start – and they got it. Luke Donald, playing Bubba Watson in the first match, made it 10-7 and Lawrie, playing world number 10 Brandt Snedeker in match number five, made it 10-8 with a thumping and morale-boosting 5&3 win. The Miracle of Medinah was on.
Real Life. Real News. Real Voices
Help us tell more of the stories that matterBecome a founding member
Lawrie’s golf foundation has been a wonderful thing for the sport in Scotland, a brilliantly-run operation that is given young kids a chance to play the game. The Open champion has had a stellar career but his work with the next generation has been inspirational.
43. Ryan Mania (horse racing)
The Galashiels jockey was an unknown before becoming the first Scot in over 100 years to ride the winner of the Grand National in 2013. It was a mesmeric story. Auroras Encore was sent off at 66-1 and at Aintree that day there was barely a shilling riding on him. No wonder. his form had been moderate, to put it mildly. He’d fallen a few times, had trailed in unimpressively in other races. In the weeks before the National, Mania felt that the horse was really picking up in training, but the main ambition at Aintree was a clear round, not a victory.
Mania’s story became national news. The trainer who gave him his big break, Peter Monteith, took his own life three years earlier. One of his big mates in jockeys room, Campbell Gillies, died in an accident on holiday the year before. Mania spoke about both of them and lent even more power to what was a stunning achievement.
42. Sally Conway (judo)
When Conway won bronze at the world judo championships in Tokyo in 2019, she completed a full set of honours at the highest level of her sport having already made the podium at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2014, at the Olympics in Rio in 2016 and at the European Championships in Tel Aviv in 2018. Gold may have eluded her, but there’s no doubting that Conway has had a hugely-rewarding decade.
The summer of 2014 saw many Scots doing some excellent things in Glasgow but Conway has excelled in more rarefied company in the years since. In 2013, having won her seventh straight 70kg British title, Conway was one of 35 athletes from 31 different sports to be honoured by the British Olympic Association. Among her fellow prize-winners were Grand Slam tennis champions Andy Murray, Olympic champion Mo Farah and major golf champion Justin Rose.
41. Callum Hawkins (athletics)
Pre-selected for next year’s Olympic marathon in Sapporo, Hawkins is a man in rich form. In what is a brutal disciple and a brutally hard environment to excel in, he finished finished fourth in the World Championship marathon in Doha in 2019 following his fourth in the words in London two years earlier. In Doha he led through 40km and looked like he might be about to win what would have been a remarkable medal. In the end, he got overtaken by two Ethiopians and a Kenyan. Breaking into a middle position in elite marathons is so difficult but Hawkins’ progress is undeniable and exciting.
He may also have provided one of the decade’s most dramatic moments from a Scot when in a commanding position to win Commonwealth Games at the Gold Coast in Australia in 2018. Hawkins was well clear and was running with authority despite the stifling heat. What happened towards the end was gripping and disturbing and it made the sports new all around the world.
The athletes ranked from 40-31 will be revealed on Saturday, with a further 10 each day until the winner is announced on Hogmanay.
Subscribe to the newsletter news
We hate SPAM and promise to keep your email address safe