Top 50 Scottish sporting stars of decade - 20-11

By Tom EnglishBBC Scotland
Watch: A look back on a decade of Scottish sport

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 have been about 150 different versions of our 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. I

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 demands 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 overrated.

20. Eve Muirhead

The curler said recently that next year's Winter Olympics in Beijing could be her last given the ongoing hip issues she's having to endure, but her legacy in her sport is assured no matter what happens from here on in.

Muirhead started to make a name for herself as a teenager when winning world junior titles in 2007, 2008 and 2009 and then adding a fourth junior title in 2011. She also led Scotland to European Championship gold in Moscow in 2011, then World Championship gold in Riga in 2013. At the Winter Games in Sochi in 2014, along with her Scottish team-mates Anna Sloan, Vicki Adams, Claire Hamilton and Lauren Gray, she became the youngest-ever skip to win an Olympic medal. She was 23. Another European title followed in 2017.

It might be some time before Scottish curling produces another talent quite like Muirhead.

19. Catriona Matthew

When people think of Catriona Matthew her captaincy of the victorious Solheim Cup team at Gleneagles this year will spring to mind, but that's not really the reason - or the sole reason - she makes this list. She's in it for a whole lot more than captaincy. As a player in the last decade, Matthew might have been off the pace at the majors but she's been a towering figure when going up against the Americans in the Solheim Cup. She made the team in 2011, 2013, 2015 and 2017, played 16 matches, winning eight and halving four. That's a hell of a record.

In Germany in 2015 she was the oldest member of the European side and yet won three points from four. In Des Moines in 2017 she was again the oldest player and once more she won three points from four. Her captaincy at Gleneagles just put the cherry on top of what was a terrific decade for the North Berwick legend. When the next edition of the Solheim Cup is played at the Inverness Club in Ohio in 2021 Matthew will be the European captain once again.

18. Dario Franchitti

The Bathgate motor racing driver retired after a serious crash while competing in Houston in 2014, but his place in the annals of the top operators in American motorsport had long since been secured. Franchitti won the Indianapolis 500 and two Indy World Championships in the previous decade and he picked up where he left off when 2010 came around.

Franchitti is probably more famous in the US than he is in his native land. In front of an estimated crowd of 300,000 people he won the Indy 500 for a second time in 2010 and won it again in 2011. Only 10 drivers in the 108-year history of the race have won it more than twice. Having won the Indy world championship in 2007 and 2009 he went on and took the title in 2010 and 2011. That was three in a row and four victories in five years. Franchitti had become a racing superstar.

His position in the pantheon was made official when he was inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 2019, taking his place alongside fellow Scot Jim Clark who himself was a previous Indy 500 winner.

17. Stuart Hogg

Stuart Hogg
Stuart Hogg moved from Glasgow Warriors to Exeter Chiefs in the summer

A double British and Irish Lion in the decade and a player who is respected throughout the world as one of the game's pre-eminent full-backs. Hogg is a lethal rugby player when playing at his maximum, an absolute speedster whose eye for space and ability to accelerate into it is a thrill to watch. He was unlucky not to be a Test Lion in 2017. Injury cost him his chance. The coach, Warren Gatland, has said subsequently that he would have played a big part in the series.

By his own admission, Hogg lost his way a little midway through the decade, believing his own hype and reacting like a diva on the back of it. But he gathered himself quickly and kicked on and played a big role in Glasgow's Pro12 victory. He made a big-money move to Exeter in the English Premiership in the summer of 2019 and has made a fine start at a club with big ambitions to win domestic and European honours.

16. Michael Jamieson

The 200m breaststroke at the Olympics in London in 2012 was where it all happened for Jamieson. He was in the form of his life at those Games, breaking the British record three times, twice in the heats and once in the final. He won a stunning silver in that final, the context of which needs explaining.

The Hungarian Daniel Gyurta took gold in a world-record time, but Jamieson was closing on him with every stroke and actually swam the last quarter faster than Gyurta. Such was the quality of Jamieson's performance he was only 0.12 seconds off beating the previous world record.

Japan's Kosuke Kitajima finished fourth. Having won 100m and 200m breaststroke gold at both the Athens Games in 2004 and the Beijing Olympics in 2008, Kitajima was regarded as the best breaststroke swimmer of all time. Jamieson never hit those dizzy heights again - the Glasgow Commonwealth Games, and that loss to Ross Murdoch, sparked the beginning of the end. Along with Murdoch, he has also spoken bravely about the mental health issues he's had to endure.

15. Laura Muir

The middle-distance runner has been the cause of huge excitement in recent years, her progress through the ranks of 1500m and 3,000m running sparking all sorts of predictions about what she may be capable of. Muir won gold in the 1500m and 3,000m at the 2017 European Indoor Championships in 2017 and did the double again in 2019. She won a silver and a bronze at the World Indoors in 2018 and became European 1500m champion in the same year.

Muir is racing in illustrious company and she doesn't appear all that far away from a podium position at the major championships despite the vicious competition she faces. She won the Diamond League 1500m in 2016 and 2018 and while her performances at Olympics and the World Championships haven't yet brought a medal - she's been fifth, fourth, sixth and fifth in world finals and seventh in her one Olympic final - there are definite signs that Muir is inching ever close to the elite in her profession. The coming year could be a huge one for her.

14. Elise Christie

Elise Christie
Elise Christie has enjoyed great success and endured great hardship

The short track speed skater from Livingston is a remarkable story with triumph and despair, elation and real sadness. She has lorded it over European and world competition in the decade, winning three World Championship gold medals (and a dozen medals in all) as well as taking 10 European golds. She's been at the pinnacle of her sport going into successive Winter Olympics only to literally, and sometimes inexplicably, fall flat on her face.

In the 2014 Games in Sochi, Russia, Christie was disqualified from all three of her events, the 500m, the 1,000m and the 1500m. Four years later she went to South Korea hotly fancied to do well (she had won the prestigious Sunday Times Sportswoman of the Year award in 2017).

Again, the demons resurfaced. She crashed out of and was disqualified from all three events once more. It was a recurring nightmare. In Christie's story we see the vulnerability of some top-class athletes in the modern world. She was subjected to cyber bullying and spoke of her trauma with depression, anxiety and self-harm. Her words were powerful. Christie intends to give the Winter Olympics another rattle in 2022 in Beijing.

13. Heather Stanning

With her rowing partner, Helen Glover, the Scot formed an almost unbeatable team up until Stanning's retirement in 2016. A major in the British army, Stanning was one of her sport's most towering figures in the decade. Stanning and Glover became the first British women to win Olympic gold when they triumphed in London 2012. No other crew could live with them. It was the first gold medal of the Games for Team GB. It may have only lasted a brief moment in time but Stanning became a household name that summer.

A few months after the end of the Olympics, Stanning was back to the day job and was posted to Helmand province in Afghanistan as operations officer working with unmanned aircraft systems. Given time off to pursue her rowing ambitions, Stanning and Glover carried on dominating, winning gold at the world championships in 2014 and 2015 (the pair were named world female crew of the year by the World Rowing Federation) before winning a second Olympic gold at Rio in 2016.

She bowed out at that point, having achieved everything she'd set out to achieve.

12. John Higgins

The Wizard of Wishaw has been winning ranking snooker events for 25 years, 30 in all with 10 of them coming this decade including a third UK Championship and a fourth World Championship. Higgins is one of the greatest players in the history of the game. Plenty of snooker experts would argue that he's the greatest of them all.

The decade began grimly for him when he got himself involved in a grubby tabloid newspaper sting surrounding match-fixing that could have cost him his career. Higgins was cleared of the most serious charge but was banned for six months and fined £75,000 for not reporting the episode to the snooker authorities.

That was in 2010. In 2011, in an astonishing comeback, he won the world title again, beating Judd Trump in the final. He's had his ups and downs on the baize in the years since, but when it comes to big stuff Higgins still has more game than most. He went all the way to the World Snooker final in 2017, 2018 and 2019, losing all three, but reminding everybody that even at the age of 44 he remains a massively formidable talent.

11. Gary Anderson

Gary Anderson
Gary Anderson won back-to-back PDC World Championships in 2015 and 2016

In his first five cracks at the PDC World Championships, from 2010 to 2014, Gary Anderson never got beyond the quarter-final. His career, and his life, changed in 2015 when he not only went beyond the quarter-final, but beat the reigning champion Michael van Gerwen in the semi-final and then beat the 16-time world champion Phil Taylor in the final. A world title would be special no matter who he beat along the way but to do it while taking out those two magnificent players made it all the more special.

Having won one world title Anderson promptly won it again the following year. He became only the fourth player in history to defend his crown. In the decade, Anderson has made 18 major finals and has won eight of them. He's taken two Premier League titles and most recently, along with Peter Wright, he won the World Cup of Darts for Scotland. Bidding for a third world championship this year, Anderson fell short, losing his third-round match last week. There's nothing surer but that Anderson will be back.

The top 10 athletes will be revealed on Hogmanay.

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