Boks differ on Laureus winners

2013-03-11 14:44
Schalk Burger (File)
Cape Town - With the Laureus World Sports Awards taking place on Monday night in Rio de Janeiro, it’s just hours until this year’s winners are announced - but there’s still intense debate over who will triumph in the different categories, as four of South Africa’s leading rugby players confirm with their differing opinions on the contenders.

Bryan Habana, Schalk Burger, Jean de Villiers and Schalk Brits will all be waiting to see if their chosen picks come through on the night, particularly in the Laureus Sportsman of the Year category, where six outstanding athletes have been nominated.

“That’s a really tough call, as all of the above athletes had a phenomenal year,” explained Habana, himself a Laureus Team of the Year winner with the Springboks in 2008.

“Being an Olympic year though, and with so much time, effort and sacrifice put in over four years to achieve success at the Games, and with his unbelievable record achieved at all the Olympics he has competed in, I would back Michael Phelps.”

Brits has a different opinion.

“All of them did pretty amazing things this year - I guess that's why they're nominated,” the Saracens hooker said.

“But I was expecting great things from all of them, except Mo. He was the surprise package. The improvement he made on his time in the last year was amazing, and then to go and win two golds!”

Brits’s old Western Province team-mate, current Springbok captain De Villiers, offered a third option.

“Lionel Messi would get my vote for Sportsman of the Year,” the South African centre said.

“The fact that he broke the record for goals scored in a season so convincingly, in a sport that is so old and played by so many, just shows what a special sportsman he is!”

And confirming just how hard this award is to pick, Burger confessed to not knowing who to back.

“I am a massive motor racing fan, so obviously the first name that springs to mind is Sebastian Vettel, but then you look at the other athletes nominated, and suddenly you start wondering who it is going to be. So my honest answer is that I don't have a clue!”

The split opinion extends to the Sportswoman of the Year Award; now resident in the northern hemisphere, Brits presents a compelling case for one of history’s finest skiers.

“At the start of the 2011/12 season in Sölden, Lindsey Vonn finally realised one of her biggest goals: winning a Giant Slalom. Only four other female skiing legends (Janica Kostelic, Anja Paerson, Pernilla Wiberg and Petra Kronberger) have triumphed in all five disciplines.
“Lindsey also surpassed Renate Götschl's Super G record with 18 victories, and won 12 races to take her third with 53 victories. She's now closing on Vreni Schneider (55 wins) and Annemarie Moser Pröll (62 wins).

She clinched her fourth overall victory as well as titles in Downhill, Super G and Super Combined. In total, Lindsey’s now won 16 crystal globes.

And finally, at the World Cup finals in Schladming, she surpassed Janica Kostelic's benchmark by scoring 1 980 points in one season, setting yet another women's record. Just incredible!”

Devout new skiing fan Brits is firmly in the Vonn camp, then, but Habana disagrees.

“Again a really tightly contested group of exceptional athletes, but with 2012 being an Olympic year and all the pressure surrounding the games, Jessica Ennis rose to the occasion,” the former IRB World Rugby Player of the Year argued.

“Not only was she a significant face of the Games, but she went about her business with sheer determination, ruthlessness, and willingness to achieve greatness.”

And Bok skipper De Villiers?

“Missy Franklin. 17-years-old, four Olympic gold medals! Enough said.”

There’s slightly more unity amongst the rugby quartet, however, when it comes to the Team of the Year nominations.

“I really enjoy my golf, even though I'm very average at playing it, and the fightback that the European Ryder Cup team showed in defying all the odds stacked against them, the team spirit and courage each player portrayed on that final day, was something that a sports lover can only admire and be awe-inspired by!” Habana said of Europe’s golfers.

Brits concurred: “This was the easiest decision for me. The Europe Ryder Cup team was just so special.”

De Villiers is also supporting Team Europe.

“The way that this team got together in a very short time, and the way they fought back to win the Ryder Cup, just shows unbelievable commitment and determination,” the star centre said.

Only Burger picked a different Team of the Year: “Red Bull Formula One Team for a Laureus here, just in front of Spain's football team, and the epic European Ryder Cup team.”

Winning the Team Award is something Habana in particular appreciates the value of.

“After seeing what it meant to come back to South Africa and see a nation united by what the team of 2007 had achieved at the Rugby World Cup, capping it off by winning the Laureus Team of the Year Award in 2008 was amazing, and immensely humbling,” he explained.

“To rub shoulders with sporting greats, both old and current, was a truly remarkable and memorable moment.”

“Winning a Laureus to me was surreal,” added Burger.

“I've watched many of the events on television, and then all of a sudden, there I was on stage receiving one for our country. Obviously the normal clichés spring to mind, but for me it just capped off the most perfect season. To receive such a prestigious award is a once in a lifetime event.”

“For us as a team, it was humbling to get that recognition from the Laureus Academy,” De Villiers agreed.

“If you look at all the legends of sport involved with Laureus, for them to award us with Team of Year made us very proud.”

It’s not just about the Awards, however; the work that the Laureus Sport For Good Foundation does is of fundamental importance, and all four rugby stars made clear their support for Laureus.

“Being a Laureus ambassador and seeing first hand how, through sport, lives are being changed locally and globally, one realises how significant the work is that Laureus does,” Habana explained.

“They truly do make a tremendous impact in bettering lives around the world.”

“The most important thing is that they change peoples’ lives,” Burger said.

“Laureus gives the youth hope by keeping them off the streets through playing sport. I've been privileged to be involved, and the work the Foundation does, and the amount of people they have reached out to, makes this such a wonderful organisation.”

“This is the main reason I support Laureus,” Brits revealed.

“The work Laureus does across the world is amazing, and they've impacted on millions of people directly or indirectly through sport. I've seen the impact sport can have on a person, a community and a nation, and I've seen this in my own country, South Africa.”

Like Bryan Habana, Schalk Burger, Schalk Brits and Jean de Villiers also underscored the value of the Laureus Sport For Good Foundation.

“I think it’s pretty simple,” the Springbok skipper said.

“Laureus is looking to improve peoples’ lives through sport and other platforms. They are touching lives, and giving hope where there was no hope left. They are doing an unbelievable job.”


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