Distance runner overturns the odds to triumph in prestigious public vote as sprinter Jonnie Peacock finishes third on memorable night for athletics

Mo Farah has become the first track and field athlete to be named BBC sports personality of the year since Dame Kelly Holmes in 2004.

The 34-year-old has never finished higher than third in battle for the BBC prize and did not even attend this year’s awards show in Liverpool as he was a mere 25/1 shot with the bookmakers.

But he emerged as the public’s No.1 choice ahead of Superbikes world champion Jonathan Rea and Paralympic sprinter Jonnie Peacock, while the boxer Anthony Joshua, the 1-8 odds on favourite, finished outside the top three.

Ironically world heavyweight champion Joshua once beat Farah in a footrace – a 100m sprint in Superstars in 2012 – but he could not beat the athlete in the 2017 awards show.

It capped a great evening for athletics. In addition to Peacock finishing in third place, there was a lifetime achievement award for Dame Jessica Ennis-Hill, while the coach of the year award went to the men behind Britain’s sprint relay success in London – Benke Blomkvist, Stephen Maguire and Christian Malcolm.

There was also a grassroots award for Denise Larrad as the Leicestershire volunteer took the BBC’s unsung hero award for helping people get involved in running, orienteering and general fitness. In addition, Paralympic programme head coach Paula Dunn was nominated for coach of the year, while the British para athletics team were shortlisted for team of the year, which was won by the women’s England cricket team.

Farah’s victory has put athletics back on the map in the BBC sports personality awards. The sport has won the main award more than any other sport from the original winner, Chris Chataway, in 1954, to Gordon Pirie, Dorothy Hyman, Mary Rand, David Hemery, Mary Peters, Brendan Foster, Steve Ovett, Seb Coe, Daley Thompson, Steve Cram, Fatima Whitbread, Liz McColgan, Linford Christie, Jonathan Edwards and Paula Radcliffe.

But Farah, who won the world 10,000m gold and 5000m silver in London this year, ends a barren spell as the last athlete to win previously was Holmes after her double gold at the Athens Olympics 13 years ago.

The distance runner, who is in the process of moving back to the UK after living in the United States in recent years, took 83,524 votes from Rea’s 80,567 and Peacock’s 73,429. In fourth, Joshua took 73,411 votes.

Farah’s win came in mildly comic-chaotic circumstances, too. In his first interview to introduce him on the show, he was interrupted by his young son, Hussein, who was sitting on his lap crying and rendering his father unintelligible until daughter Rhianna took him away.

Then, when he was announced as the winner, the video feed cut out just as he was starting to deliver his victory speech. The audience at the awards were, however, able to listen to his reaction and Farah said: “I can’t believe it. There are such great people on the shortlist from Anthony Joshua to Lewis Hamilton and Jonnie Peacock.

“I do wish I was there. I wish I was giving back to people. My son and twins have been sick. In fact, while I was in the room, he was throwing up everywhere. I owe it to public and people who supported me and voted me. I can’t stop staring at it,” he said, pointing at the trophy.