The winners are announced in Abu Dhabi, with the Spain football World Cup team and skier Lindsey Vonn also among those recognised.
Rafael Nadal takes the applause at Laureus Awards
The two days of Laureus-fuelled excitement that descended on the UAE capital may have started on Sunday with a call for hush, but ended last night with rapturous applause as Rafael Nadal, the men’s world No 1 in tennis, won his first Laureus Sportsman of the Year award during a glittering ceremony at the Emirates Palace hotel.
Gary Player had teed visitors up for a thrilling couple of days with a celebrity-filled Golf Challenge at his signature Saadiyat Beach Golf Club and yesterday things continued in a similar vein with a charity football match involving former players such as Edgar Davids and Gianfranco Zola which is believed to have raised in the region of €500,000 (Dh2.48m) for the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation.
But everything was geared towards the main event: the Laureus World Sports Awards. And it did not disappoint. Kevin Spacey had jetted in from Hollywood to host the event and the two-time Academy Award winner opened the show with a humorous rendition of the Black Eyed Peas song I Gotta Feeling, which poked fun at those in the audience, including Zinedine Zidane, Wladimir Klitschko and Nadal.
Nadal, a nine-time major winner, won the Breakthrough of the Year award in 2006 – which this year went to Martin Kaymer, the golfer – but having won three grand slam events in 2010, he was always expected to add a Laureus statuette – despite Spacey’s quip that nothing in sport can be predicted, unless you are a Pakistani cricketer.
Tennis rival Roger Federer won Sportsman of the Year four times in succession between 2005 and 2008. Nadal said he was delighted with his latest achievement.
“To be No 1 in the world is not my goal,” said Nadal. “My real goal is to continue to be competitive in every game. I have not had the perfect start this season, but it has not been terrible.”
He added: “We are ready to arrive at the top of the world in many things. The sport in Spain, what we are achieving these past few years, is unbelievable and very hard to repeat, so we must appreciate this moment. In all sports – basketball, tennis, F1, when you win often, you lose the importance of every victory. But not in Spain. We know this moment will not last so we are trying to do our best.”
The Spaniard’s achievement was greeted by rapturous applause from the star-studded audience, which included several of Nadal’s sporting contemporaries such as tennis’s world No 1 female Caroline Wozniacki, as well as legendary international figures of yesteryear, such as Lord Sebastian Coe and Sir Bobby Charlton.
Nadal was not the only Spanish success story: the national football team secured the statuette for World Team of the Year – to the visible bemusement of Colin Montgomerie, Europe’s Ryder Cup winning captain, who was in the audience.
Speaking live from a video link-up in Madrid, Spain’s World Cup-winning coach Vicente Del Bosque, flanked by his players including Fernando Torres and captain Iker Casillas, said through a translator that the team was honoured to win the award before apologising for not being able to attend.
Montgomerie was able to find solace in his team being awarded with the Laureus Spirit of Sport Award, which he dedicated to Seve Ballesteros, the Spanish golfer, who is fighting to regain full health after having a cancerous tumour removed from his brain in 2009.
“This is a great honour for the whole golf community,” said Montgomerie, who accepted the award alongside US PGA champion Kaymer. “[During Ryder Cup weekend], we played with integrity and we showed sportsmanship and those two words epitomise our game.
“Seve played a very major role in our Ryder Cup victory. He spoke to the team by phone. He didn’t have much time; he has an attention spell of about 10 minutes, but he gave us that 10 minutes of passion and exceptional motivation. The team were inspired by him and these words were key to the success. He was with us somehow.”
Kaymer acknowledged that Abu Dhabi is becoming synonymous with success for him.
“Here is the place where everything started for me with my first European Tour win. Always when I come to Abu Dhabi, it is fantastic,” said the German, who has won the UAE capital’s annual golf championship three times in the past four years. “It was a pleasure to be invited, but to win this is amazing.”
Other winners on the night included Lindsay Vonn, who won Sportswoman of the Year award after winning the downhill gold at the Vancouver Winter Olympics last year.
– Gary Meenaghan
HIGHLIGHTS FROM LAST NIGHT'S ACTION AND WHO WON WHAT
8.15pm There are three additional awards. The Lifetime Achievement award went to footballer Zinedine Zidane, the European Ryder Cup team, who missed out on Team of the Year, were presented with the Spirit of Sport award and May El-Khahil, the founder of the Beirut Marathon, won the Sport for Good award.
7.50pm Tennis No 1 Rafael Nadal and American skiing Olympic gold medallist Lindsey Vonn have won the Sportsman and Sportswoman of the year Awards.
In the other awards, Spain's football World Cup squad won the team of the year, Italian Moto GP veteran Valentino Rossi claimed the Comeback of the Year award and American surfer Kelly Slater took the Action Sportsperson of the Year.
As well as saluting the finest sporting performances of the past year, the awards - with support from host partner Aabar Investments - and their proceeds will go towards the many sporting community projects which have helped improve the lives of more than one million youngsters around the world, from Kenya to Australia and Brazil to China.
Vonn says she is still undecided about defending her super-G title in the opening race of the world championships on Tuesday.
Vonn says she still has trouble keeping her concentration after suffering a concussion in a crash in practice five days ago.
The American says she is optimistic about competing in the race but will not make a final decision until shortly before the event.
The nominees for the caterories were as follows:
Action Sportsperson of the Year: Jamie Bestwick (BMX), Victor Fernandez (windsurfing), Stephanie Gilmore (surfing), Levi Sherwood (Freestyle Motocross), Kelly Slater (surfing) and Shaun White (snowboarding).
Sportsperson of the Year with a Disability: Verena Bentele (skiing), Matt Cowdrey (swimming), Daniel Dias (swimming), Jakub Krako (skiing), Esther Vergeer (tennis) and Lauren Woolstencroft (skiing).
Comeback of the Year: Paula Creamer (golf), Tyson Gay (athletics), Justine Henin (tennis), Carolina Kluft (athletics), Merlene Ottey (athletics) and Valentino Rossi (Moto GP).
Breakthrough of the Year: Martin Kaymer (golf), Christophe Lemaitre (athletics), Matteo Manassero (golf), Thomas Muller (football), Louis Oosthuizen (golf) and Teddy Tamgho (athletics).
Team of the Year: New Zealand All Blacks (rugby union), European Ryder Cup Team (golf), Inter Milan (football), Los Angeles Lakers (basketball), Red Bull-Renault (Formula One) and Spain (football).
Sportswoman of the Year: Kim Clijsters (tennis), Jessica Ennis (athletics), Blanka Vlasic (athletics), Lindsey Vonn (skiing), Serena Williams (tennis) and Caroline Wozniacki (tennis).
Sportsman of the Year: Kobe Bryant (basketball), Andres Iniesta (football), Lionel Messi (footbal), Rafael Nadal (tennis), Manny Pacquiao (boxing) and Sebastian Vettel (Formula One).