A hat-trick of Halberg Awards to Valerie Vili and Caroline and Georgina Evers-Swindell being crowned champions of the decade made for a ladies night at New Zealand's major sporting awards in Auckland on Thursday night.
It was a big night for rowing in general with recognition in three catgeories.
But the 25-year-old Vili was the star of the show again.
After collecting the sportswoman of the title for a fourth time - to equal boardsailor Barbara Kendall's record - Vili then headed off the other winners on the night for the supreme award.
Left in her dust were men's winner, four-time world single scull rowing champion Mahe Drysdale, and teams champions, the world champion rowing pair of Eric Murray and Hamish Bond, unbeaten in their first year as a pair at elite level.
The Evers-Swindells completed the golden night for rowing when they were named our best for the first decade of the new millennium. They headed off the respective Halberg Award winners from 2000-09, including Vili, the three-time Halberg Award winner.
In the end, back-to-back double scull Olympic gold medals by the Evers-Swindells - now Caroline Meyer and Georgina Earl following their marriages - gave them the edge over the other contenders.
Drysdale and Vili both went unbeaten in all international competition during 2009, retained their world championship crowns and were also acclaimed by their international federations with Drysdale voted male 'Rower of the Year' by world rowing's governing body and Vili one of five finalists for the IAAF 'Female Athlete of the Year award'.
The other finalists in the sportswoman category were all current world champions - Sophie Pascoe (swimming), Alison Shanks (track cycling) and Sarah Walker (BMX cycling).
In the sportsman of the year category Drysdale headed off Scott Dixon (motor sport), Duncan Grant (rowing), Richie McCaw (rugby) and Daniel Vettori (cricket).
The team award will certainly draw debate with the men's rowers judged better than the people's favourites, the All Whites, who couldn't sway the judges despite making the World Cup.
The awards, sponsored by Westpac, recognise outstanding achievement by New Zealand sports men, women, teams and coaches over the previous 12 months.
The Westpac Emerging Talent category, which comes with a $15,000 scholarship from Westpac New Zealand, was awarded to Sam Webster, winner of an unprecedented hat-trick of titles last year at the under-19 world cycling championships. The other finalists were Aaron Cruden (rugby), Sam Meech (sailing) and Robbie Manson (rowing).
Dick Tonks, who coached Drysdale and the men's pair to world titles, won the SPARC Coach of the Year category. Football lost out here too, as Riki Herbert was overlooked.
Former athletes Allison Roe, winner of the New York and Boston marathons and Barry Magee, winner of the Olympic marathon bronze in 1960, were inducted into the New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame.
Kenny Smith, who has spent more than 50 years in motor-sport winning premier single seater races throughout SE Asia, was presented with the Lion Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award, a Halberg Trust initiative.
Sir John Anderson, chairman of New Zealand cricket for 13 years, was presented with the SPARC Leadership Award.
2009 Westpac Halberg Awards
Sportsman: Mahe Drysdale (rowing). Finalists: Scott Dixon (motor sport), Duncan Grant (rowing), Richie McCaw (rugby), Daniel Vettori (cricket)
Sportswoman: Valerie Vili (athletics). Finalists: Sophie Pascoe (swimming), Alison Shanks (cycling), Sarah Walker (BMX)
Sports team: Men's pair (rowing). Finalists: All Whites (soccer), men's lightweight double scull (rowing), women's 420 (yachting)
Coach: Richard Tonks (rowing). Finalists: Tim Carswell (cycling), Kirsten Hellier (athletics), Ricki Herbert (soccer).
Emerging Talent Award: Sam Webster (cycling). Finalists: Aaron Cruden (rugby), Sam Meech (sailing), Robbie Manson (rowing).
Champion of the Decade: Caroline and Georgina Evers-Swindell (rowing). Finalists: Rob Waddell (2000), Tall Blacks (2002), Silver Ferns (2003), Sarah Ulmer (2004), Michael Campbell (2005), Mahe Drysdale (2006), Valerie Vili (2007, 08 & 09)
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