November 20, 2012
Two remarkable golfing moments from Ernie Els and the European Ryder Cup Team, plus a cluster of heroic Olympic gold medal winning performances, has produced a strong list of contenders for the 2013 Laureus World Comeback of the Year Award
Ethiopia’s Tirunesh Dibaba, Felix Sanchez from the Dominican Republic, Australia’s Anna Meares and Eric Shanteau of the United States all won gold medals in remarkable circumstances, while Els and the European Ryder Cup Team staged extraordinary sporting comebacks in 2012.
The Laureus World Sports Awards is recognised as the premier honours event in the international sporting calendar and the Awards Ceremony provides a high profile focus as stars of the sporting world come together to salute the finest sportsmen and sportswomen of the year. The winners will be unveiled during a globally televised Awards Ceremony in Rio de Janeiro.
Proceeds from the Laureus World Sports Awards directly benefit and underpin the work of the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation, which supports more than 100 community sports projects around the world that have helped to improve the lives of over one-and-a-half million young people.
Having failed to qualify for the US Masters for the first time since 1993, South African golfer Ernie Els, at 42, bounced back in the most dramatic way with his fourth Major Championship victory at The Open at Lytham. In one of the most surprising turn-arounds seen in golf, he started the final day six shots behind Australia’s Adam Scott and ended winning by one – exactly ten years after he had won his last Major Championship. Els, who had dropped to 65th in the world rankings earlier in the year, said: “A lot of people never thought I would win but I started believing this year.”
Under the inspirational captaincy of Jose Maria Olazabal, the European Ryder Cup Team produced a stunning final-day fightback to beat the United States in Chicago. The US needed only 4½ points from 12 singles matches to win, but it was the Europeans who won eight matches and halved another to secure a historic 14½-13½ win. Top performers were Ian Poulter, who won all four matches he played, and Rory McIlroy and Justin Rose, who each won three matches.
Ethiopia’s Tirunesh Dibaba joined an elite group of Olympians who have won three individual track gold medals when she won the 10,000 metres in London. It was a heroic effort from Dibaba who has had to come back from a series of injuries after her Olympic 5,000 and 10,000 metres double in Beijing in 2008. She was out of competition for 16 months and only returned at the beginning of 2012. She announced she was back by winning the 10,000 metres at the Prefontaine Classic in June which set her up for her moment of glory in London.
Two weeks before his 35th birthday, Felix Sanchez of the Dominican Republic amazingly won the 400 metres hurdles gold medal in London, repeating his achievement in Athens in 2004. His winning time of 47.63 secs was exactly the same as in 2004 and was his fastest run for eight years. For one of the most exhausting events on the track, Sanchez’s performance at his age was truly remarkable. In between 2004 and 2012 his only global highlight was a silver medal in the 2007 World Championships in Osaka.
Anna Meares' sprint success in the London Olympic velodrome was a moment of immense celebration for herself and Australia as she beat principal rival Victoria Pendleton of Britain on home territory. She also won bronze in the team sprint. Her triumph in London marked the end of an amazing journey that started in January 2008 when she broke her neck in a cycling accident. Amazingly she fought her way back for the 2008 Beijing Olympics and won silver. Four years later the gold medal justified all her efforts. She said: “It's been such a difficult challenge. I've tried so much and worked so hard.”
Eric Shanteau won a gold medal in the 4 x 100 metres medley relay at the London Olympic Games by swimming in the preliminaries for the US team, after a successful recovery from testicular cancer. He was diagnosed with cancer in June 2008 just one week before he was due to compete in the trials for a place in the American Olympic team for Beijing. He delayed treatment and went on to make the Olympic team in the 200 metres breaststroke, swimming a personal best. Upon returning home he underwent treatment and was officially declared cancer free in September 2008.
The German Men’s Olympic Eights Team came back after 20 years of disappointment to win the Olympic gold medal in London for the first time since 1988. On their way to a memorable victory the team climbed an enormous mountain, beating a British squad that has done consistently well in the World Cup and was rowing on home water and a Canadian team which set a world best time at a World Cup event in Lucerne in May. Crew members attributed their success since 2009 to coach Ralf Holtmeyer, who has led them to their last three world championships.
India’s Yuvraj Singh made a successful and welcome comeback to world cricket in 2012 after receiving chemotherapy treatment in Boston and Indianapolis for lung cancer. He made his international return in a Twenty20 match in September against New Zealand shortly before the 2012 World Twenty20. He was picked for the India team in the competition where he took eight wickets. Then he was picked as a member of the India Test team to play England during the winter. Aged 30, he has been a member of the India team since 2000. At the 2007 World Twenty20 he famously hit six 6s in six balls against England bowler Stuart Broad.
Laureus World Sports Academy Member and golf legend Gary Player, one of only five men to win golf’s Grand Slam of four Major Championships, said: “I thought the Olympic Games in London were wonderful. So many great performances by the big names who we expected to deliver and then so many surprises from great athletes like Tirunesh Dibaba, Felix Sanchez and Anna Meares. In my own sport of golf it was also an exceptional year for comebacks with Ernie Els showing that he is still a force to be reckoned with when he won the Open Championship and then that unbelievable final day at the Ryder Cup. I confess I did not think Europe could do it, but the determination of the team was sensational. Seve Ballesteros, who did so much to revive the Ryder Cup, would have been so proud of them.”