Breaking through walls - The nominees for Laureus World Sportsperson of the Year with a Disability

From a sprinter who moved up to marathons to an untouchable tennis phenomenon, these incredible athletes moved into the mainstream in 2022

Six athletes. One category. But it’s bursting at the seams. No-one on the shortlist for the Laureus World Sportsperson of the Year with a Disability Award is easy to pin down. 

Our six Nominees, chosen by a specialist panel from the International Paralympic Committee, are ground-breakers, as are many of the athletes celebrated by the Laureus World Sports Awards. But these guys also break through walls. They smash preconceptions; they break down barriers between sports; and ultimately, they win their place in the sporting world as elite athletes – no qualification required. 

 In June 2022, Cameron Leslie won gold in the S4 100m freestyle at the Para Swimming World Championships, to go with three individual silvers. Impressive, right? Until you learn that by October he was leading the Wheel Blacks, New Zealand’s wheelchair rugby team, to the quarter-finals of the World Championship in Denmark. 

Like Leslie, Catherine Debrunner changed track during the sporting year. Her diversion was less drastic, but even more successful. In May, the wheelchair sprinter set four world records – in the T53 100m, 200m, 400m and 800m on her home track in Switzerland. She immediately set her sights on a completely new challenge – the marathon. And incredibly, she won on her debut in Berlin, before doubling up seven days later with a course record in London. 

Multi-discipline excellence has long been the calling card of Oksana Masters – a previous winner of this Award – and in 2022 she became the first US athlete to win seven medals at a single Paralympic Games, becoming the most decorated US Paralympian in the process. Her wins came in Para biathlon and Para cross-country skiing, and she also added four world titles (two in skiing and two in cycling) to her collection. In a breakthrough moment in June, Masters became the first Paralympian to receive an ESPYS nomination in the Best Athlete category. 
If you want to hang in this kind of company while sticking to one sport, you better have had a year to remember. Step forward, our remaining three nominees. 
Declan Farmer has written his name all over the history of Para ice hockey at the Paralympics. In 2022, he won his third gold medal as the spearhead of Team USA, setting numerous scoring records in the process, including a tournament-best 18 goals, including a hat-trick in the final. 
It is hard to think of an individual athlete who dominates their sport like Diede de Groot. No other tennis player, wheelchair or non-disabled, has won consecutive calendar Grand Slams (victory in all four major championships). De Groot did that while dropping only a single set across all events. She ended the year with a winning streak of 74 matches, going back to the 2021 Australian Open. 
The most decorated athlete at the 2022 Winter Paralympics was the Norwegian skier Jesper Saltvik Pedersen. The then 22-year-old won in Super-G sitting, Super combined sitting, Slalom sitting and Giant slalom sitting. A true superstar of downhill racing, Pedersen will have many more opportunities to add to his golden collection. 
Many of our Nominees have simply taken over their sport in the past year. Only one will receive a statuette, but all of them deserve to be celebrated.

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