Vili wins supreme Halberg Award
Olympic women's shot put champion Valerie Vili has captured New Zealand's ultimate sporting prize - the Halberg Award - for the second consecutive year.
And rowing twins Caroline and Georgina Evers-Swindell defeated sentimental favourites, rugby league's World Cup-winning Kiwis, for the team award.
Vili emerged as the big winner at the 2008 awards dinner in Auckland, repeating her performance of last year by winning the Sportswoman of the Year category and then claiming the supreme Halberg Award.
In so doing the 24-year-old athlete became only the third female to capture the big prize in the 60-year history of the awards.
Vili followed in the footsteps of fellow athlete Yvette Williams (1950 & 52) and lightweight rower Phillipa Baker (1989 & 94) as the only other women to win two Halberg Awards, and the first to score back-to-back wins.
She also became the 10th dual winner and first since rower Rob Waddell, the only three-time winner (1998, 1999 & 2000).
The other category winners she headed off for the supreme award at the Vector Arena were Indy 500 champion Scott Dixon (Sportsman of the Year) and double-scull repeat Olympic gold medal pair, Caroline and Georgina Evers-Swindell (Sports Team of the Year).
The awards, hosted each year at a glittering dinner organised by the Halberg Trust, recognise outstanding achievement by New Zealand sports men, women, teams and coaches over the previous 12 months. Unable to make last year's dinner in Christchurch, as she was competing in Auckland on the night of the awards, this year Valerie was presented with the trophy by Olympic rowing single scull bronze medal winner, Mahe Drysdale, the 2006 Halberg Award winner.
For Vili 2008 was a year of total domination. She won every international competition she contested and her first throw in the Olympic final of 20.56m was a Commonwealth Games and NZ record throw. It also completed a clean sweep of every major title available to her - Olympic, world indoor and outdoor, World Cup and Commonwealth Games. The other finalists in the Sportswoman of the Year category were Sophie Pascoe (swimming), Val Smith (bowls) and Samantha Warriner (triathlon).
In the Sportsman of the Year category, won by Dixon, the other finalists were Olympic board sailing winner Tom Ashley, Beijing individual pursuit silver medallist Hayden Roulston, US Amateur Golf Champion Danny Lee and 1500m Olympic bronze medal winner Nick Willis. Dixon was not able to be at the dinner but spoke by satellite from Indianapolis.
The Team category was won by the Swindell twins ahead of the Rugby League World Cup winning Kiwis, the All Blacks and the men's team pursuit cycling quartet from Beijing, which won a bronze medal.
In the Emerging Talent category, which provides a $25,000 scholarship from Westpac Bank, the winner was 18-year-old Winter X Games free-skiing medal prospect Jossi Wells. The other finalists were Chris Rahardja (karate), Paige Hareb (surfing) and Graham Oberlin-Brown (rowing).
Vili's coach, Kirsten Hellier, completed a double when she won the SPARC Coach of the Year category. The other finalists in this distinguished group were Dick Tonks (rowing) and Grant Beck (board sailing) who coached Caroline and Georgina Evers-Swindell and Tom Ashley to their Olympic gold medals and Stephen Kearney, the successful Kiwis coach.
The 2008 Westpac Halberg Awards marked 40 years since the Eagles Golfing Society of New Zealand began their support of the Halberg Trust nationally. They presented the Trust with a cheque for $157,342.90 which took their support since 1969 to more than $3.5million.
The dinner again inducted two former New Zealand sporting champions into the New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame. They were Anne Audain, Commonwealth Games middle distance gold and silver medallist during the 1980s and squash ace Ross Norman, who won the 1986 World Cup squash title with a stunning four-set victory over then world champion Jahangir Khan, unbeaten for more than five years.