And the nominees are…

31 10 2010

The list reads like a Who’s Who of Australian sports, but of the 12 of the hottest and most accomplished sporting stars in Australia this year, only one will score the title of  Sports Performer of the Year.  But now that the 2010 Colonial First State Sports Performer of the Year Awards nominees have been announced, just what is it about this group of athletes that make the deserving of the title?

Torah Bright… The girl with the golden smile. This Aussie snowboarder turned professional at the tender age of 14, and has become one of the most popular international athletes.  She travels the world eating, breathing and sleeping snowboarding.  The goofy footer has had an impressive career to date, with top three finishes in a number of competitions, most notably the X Games (an annual event organised by US sports broadcaster ESPN and focussing on eXtreme action sports), over the last five years.  In 2010, Bright was chosen as Australia’s flag bearer at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Canada.  Despite suffering two concussions in training, she qualified in the top position for the final of the women’s half-pipe.  Crashing out in the first run, Bright pulled off a series of difficult twirls to post the highest score (a 45.0) of the second run, and claimed gold. 

Todd Carney… Bad boy come good. Debuting for the Canberra Raiders in the National Rugby League at the age of 17, Carney is arguably one of the most talented five-eighths in the game.  But things could have been different.  After a stellar year in 2006, Carney was charged with drink driving and reckless driving and his licence was disqualified for five years.  He found himself in further trouble when as the driver, he was involved in a high-speed chase with police through the suburbs of Canberra, and fled the scene on foot.  After turning himself in, he appeared before the ACT Magistrates Court and pleaded guilty to the charges of failing to stop when directed by police and driving while disqualified.  Lucky to escape jail, Carney was placed on a good behaviour order, banned from driving until 2012, and instructed to carry out 200 hours of community service.  Despite having stellar performances on field, it was Carney’s off field antics that drew the biggest attention, and in 2008 he was sacked by the Raiders and de-registered from the NRL making him ineligible to play in the top league until 2010.  During 2009 he received a release from the Canberra Raiders, which freed Carney to play for the Atherton Roosters, a rugby league team in the Cairns competition, and gave him a shoot a redemption.  The year away, combined with counselling for his alcohol problem, served him well and in 2010 he made a comeback to the NRL with the Sydney Roosters.  Carney is formidable in attack and combined with Mitchell Pearce to create carnage against any opposition.  He also took on the role of kicker for the Roosters, and at the end of the regular season Carney was second on top point scorers and goal kickers lists.  His return to the NRL, and his ability to clean up his act, won the respect of the competition and he received the coveted Dally M Medal for the NRL’s best player as well as the Provan-Summons award for five-eighth of the year.

Alicia Coutts… Flying under the radar.  This Australian medley, butterfly and freestyle swimmer may have felt like she was made of glass when she first stepped onto the swimming arena.  Competing in an era where females are exerting their dominance in the pool, and the likes of Leisel Jones, Stephanie Rice, Emily Seebohm and Jessicah Schipper having the spotlight firmly on them, Coutts has been an unassuming and quiet achiever.  An Olympic finalist and 2008 Australian Institute of Sport Female Swimmer of the Year, it was at this month’s Commonwealth Games in Delhi where Coutts emerged as one of swimmings future superstars.  Brisbane-born Coutts, 23, seemed to have come from nowhere to score five gold medals (the 200m individual medley, 100m freestyle, 100m butterfly and was a key member of Australia’s gold medals in the 4x100m freestyle relay and 4x100m medley relay), but the reality is she has made a remarkable comeback from injury, having undergone major abdominal surgery in 2007 and again in March 2009, to become the most successful athlete at this year’s games.

Stephanie Gilmore… Cementing her place in history.  Her life as a surfer began at the age of 10 but could anyone have predicted that 22-year-old Gilmore would be on her way to making history as the first ever female to win four consecutive world titles from as many attempts?  Probably, if you consider that she shot to fame as a 17-year-old wild card entry at the Roxy Pro on the Gold Coast in 2005.  She claimed her first world title two years later and quickly followed it up with a second crown in 2008.  Some have said that she has revolutionised women’s’ surfing, and is a great chance of challenging the seven world title record held by fellow Australian, Layne Beachley.  At the time of writing, Gilmore is one step away from securing her fourth straight world title at the Rip Curl Pro Search event in Puerto Rico.

Steve Hooker… Higher and higher.  Australian pole vault sensation, Steve Hooker became the first man since Ralph Doubell in 1968 to win an Olympic Gold medal in athletics.  He stamped his name into the history books in 2008, by not only winning gold, but by breaking the Olympic record with an impressive leap of 5.96m.  The lanky ginger from Western Australia, has become somewhat of a phenomenon, beating world-class competitors on his way to the top.  In 2009, Hooker soared above his rivals at events in  New York, Boston, Paris, the Ukraine, Stockholm, Sydney and Melbourne before snarin gold in the IAAF World Championships in Berlin with the second highest jump in pole vault history (6.06m).  At the 2010 Delhi Commonwealth Games, Hooker was odds-on favourite to take the gold medal in the event, and he did not disappoint.  He was nominated for the IAAF 2010 World Athlete of the Year Award, ahead of Jamaican Sprinter, Usain Bolt.  Some people say that can see it in the stars, Steve Hooker can almost touch them.

Geoff Huegill… The Comeback King.  Overweight and out of shape, Huegill had to put in the hard yards to get himself on to the Australian swimming team competing in Delhi.  Having retired from the sport more than three years ago, Huegill had ballooned to a massive 138kgs, indulging in pizza, beer and all the things he was probably prohibited from eating during his days as a competitor.  Fortunately, Huegill found his passion for the sport and a desire to win, and so began his rigorous dieting and training schedule that saw him shed an incredible 45kgs.  Huegill’s comeback has not only been inspirational (to anyone who has ever battled with their weight, his story gives hope), but his 100m butterfly win at the Commonwealth Games was not only a new personal best, but the time of 51.69s set a new Commonwealth record. 

Lauren Mitchell… Best on floor.  Mitchell stepped into the spotlight in 2009, after nabbing a pair of silver medals at the world championship in London.  However, the petite gymnast was sidelined with a raft of injuries (wrist, ankle, adductor) at the start of this year.  She returned to debut in this year’s Commonwealth Games where she won four gold medals (team, all round, balance beam, uneven bars) and one silver (floor).  But not satisfied with this result, the pint-sized athlete went on to the World Gymnastics Championship in Rotterdam where she took the world title.  It was her second competition this year, and the first time a woman has claimed a world gymnastics title. 

Neil Robertson… The Pocket Rocket.  He became the youngest player ever to make a century break in an Australian snooker ranking event, at the age of 14, and in May 2010 Robertson defeated Graeme Dott 18-13 to claim his first world title.  In September, Robertson joined an elite group as one of only seven other professionals to sit at the top of the world snooker rankings since they began in 1976.  He is widely regarded as one of the best long potters and a rising star in the world of snooker.

Dane Swan… In full flight. This Australian Rules footballer has emerged as one of the game’s elite after making his debut in the game in 2003 with his club, Collingwood.  Despite a slow start, Swan started to show his champion form in 2006, playing in the midfield position.  In 2008 and 2009, he won the EW Copeland trophy, the best and fairest award for a player at the Collingwood Football Club.  In 2010, Swan achieved a number of personal milestones with a premiership appearance and selection in the All-Australian team that took on Ireland, and was voted the AFL Players Association MVP.

Mark Webber… Go speed racer.  This Australian Formula 1 driver is the first since Alan Jones in 1981 to win a Formula 1 race.  Having made his debut in 2002, Webber showed consistent form in qualification and had the best results when compared to many of his teammates.  His Formula 1 win came in 2009 at the German Grand Prix, despite receiving a drive through penalty early in the race for causing an avoidable collision.  Having driven with Red Bull since 2007, Webber has this year qualified in pole position five times and has won four races.  After his third place in Turkey, he became the first Australian to lead the drivers’ championship since Johns and may end the 30-year drought if crowned this year’s world champion.




One response

1 12 2010

Well, well, well… It seems The Comeback King (Geoff Huegill) has taken top honours with voters here and also claimed the official Sports Performer of the Year Award.

So deserving too!

Let’s re-cap. ‘Skippy’ shed 45kgs to get himself into peak condition for a return to elite swimming at this year’s Commonwealth Games. As if that wasn’t achievement enough, Huegill then went on to claim gold in the 100m butterfly and is ranked second in men’s swimming in the world (behind that freak, Michael Phelps).

Well done Mr Huegill… What a way to cap off the year!

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