Olympic gold medallist Anky Van Grunsven and Paralympic gold medallist Lee Pearson have one more trophy to add to their glitzy showcase. The pair were among the 50 European athletes to win 2004 SportStar Awards last week.
Now on their third edition, the SportStar Awards celebrate successful sportsmen and women who are an inspiration to amateurs.
“The SportStar Awards recognise European athletes who have been selected based on criteria including their results in Athens, but also their demonstration of the Olympic spirit and their upholding of true Olympic values,” says Gilles Durand of Eurosport, who organised the event.
The SportStar Award committee chose only one Olympic athlete per sport and they decided on Van Grunsven for equestrianism.
Van Grunsven’s Olympic career is impressive. She first went to the Olympics in 1988, when she finished in 26th place. But from then on she steadily progressed towards the top position, coming fourth in Barcelona (1992) and second in Atlanta (1996), before winning the gold medal in Sydney 2000 with Bonfire.
Bonfire was retired after the Sydney Olympic but this did not prevent Van Grunsven from defending her medal in Athens, where she won the gold with 10-year-old Salinero. She was also the first Dutch rider to win a world championship when she landed the individual dressage title at the 1994 World Equestrian Games in Den Hague, again with Bonfire.
But Van Grunsven was also selected because of her competitive spirit, which she showed on the many occasions she lost with grace to rival dressage queen Isabell Werth.
British dressage rider Lee Pearson won the men’s SportStar Award for Paralympic athletes. Pearson, who is 30 years old, has won six gold medals at the Paralympics.
His first gold came at the Sydney Paralympics in 2000, when he won the individual grade I dressage and quickly followed suit with the individual grade I freestyle and the team gold. He must have liked the feel of it, because he repeated the feat four years later in Athens.
Last week’s SportStar Award was the icing on his Paralympic cake. “It was a great honour to win this award and particularly to be the first male Paralympic athlete to receive it,” Pearson says.
The SportStar Award ceremony took place at the Olympic Museum in Lausanne, Switzerland, in the presence of Dr. Jacques Rogge, President of the International Olympic Committee, Juan Antonio Samaranch, IOC Honorary President, and Mario Pescante, President of the European Olympic Committees.