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The Paralympic world’s outstanding athletes were honoured at the 2013 Paralympic Sport Awards on Saturday evening, with winners in six categories announced at a special ceremony in Athens.
Wheelchair tennis legend Esther Vergeer won Best Female Athlete, wheelchair racer David Weir took the Best Male Athlete title, cyclist Alex Zanardi won Best Male Games Debut, sprinter Marlou van Rhijn claimed the Best Female Games Debut award, Brazil’s five-a-side football team won Best Team and wheelchair rugby official Sylvia Sekowskawas chosen as Best Official.
The Paralympic Sport Awards happen every two years and recognise the outstanding athletes from the previous years’ edition of the Paralympic Summer or Winter Games.
The 2013 Paralympic Sport Awards winners:
Best Female Athlete: Esther Vergeer
The Dutchstar finished one of Paralympic sport’s most successful careers with a fourth wheelchair tennis singles title and a gold in doubles. Vergeer dominated her sport for more than a decade, winning eight Paralympic titles and retired shortly after London 2012 on a 470-match winning streak in singles.
Photo: Rio 2016/Alex Ferro
Vergeer said: “It feels like a huge recognition for all my achievements. It’s great to be surrounded by so many great athletes from all over the world. You see Paralympic sport grow, and I am really hoping that I will stay involved and see it grow even more in the future.”
Best Male Athlete: David Weir
The Great Britonwas unbeatable in London, racing to four golds in eight days in the 800m, 1500m, 5000m and marathon in the T54 class, which is widely regarded as one of Paralympic sport’s most competitive.
Photo: Getty Images/Bryn Lennon
Weir said: “It’s just great being recognised for what I did in London. It was an amazing achievement, and obviously the IPC could see that competing in the T54 events and coming away with four gold medals was one of the toughest things in the world. I fulfilled my dream.”
Best Female Games Debut: Marlou van Rhijn
The Dutch double-amputee sprinter claimed 100m silver and 200m gold in the T44 events at London 2012. She also set new T43 world records in both distances.
Van Rhijn said: “I am very excited that I won this award because it's a valuable recognition for my achievements in London.”
Best Male Games Debut: Alex Zanardi
The Italian cyclist, a former F1 and F3000 motor racing driver, wongolds in the individual road race H4 and individual time trial H4 at London 2012, in addition to winning silver in the mixed team relay H1-4.
Photo: GettyImages/Clive Rose
Zanardi said: “The prize itself is amazing. I enjoyed my time in London and taking home three medals was not something I expected.”
Best Team: Brazil’s 5-a-side football squad
Brazil’s visually-impaired footballers won their third consecutive Paralympic gold at London 2012. They were led by top striker Jefinho and did not concede a goal in the tournament.
Photo: Brazilian Paralympic Committee (IPC, in portuguese)
Brazil goalkeeper Fabio Vasconcelos, who is now the team’s coach, said: “I don’t think that any other national team has done what we’ve done, winning all the tournaments we were in since 2006, so it’s great to see the recognition for our victories.”
Best Official: Sylvia Sekowska
The German, who was head table official for wheelchair rugby at London 2012,delivered a comprehensive training project in the lead-up to the Games that enabled a pool of qualified national technical officials from the host country to be selected.
All the award winners triumphed from competitive shortlists, after nominations from National Paralympic Committees and International Paralympic Sports Federations.