Pascoe should be feted at pinnacle of elite sport

Last updated 05:00 24/12/2012
Sophie Pascoe
YOUNG ACHIEVER: Sophie Pascoe with her spoils from London.

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OPINION: Sophie Pascoe, the Canterbury swimmer who reached Michael Phelps-like standards at the London Paralympics, is giving Halberg Awards voters headaches. Or she should be.

Pascoe won three gold medals and three silvers at the Paralympics and was acclaimed as a national sports hero on her return.

At the Canterbury sports awards last month, she scooped the big prize, comfortably heading off none other than Richie McCaw.

Could she now win the Halberg Award? It would be a momentous step for disabled sport.

The race for the Halbergs this year is extremely hot.

Since the New Zealand Sportsman of the Year began in 1949 (it was renamed the Halberg Awards in 1993), there has been only one Olympic year when the winner has not come from that year's Olympics.

That was 1980, when New Zealand largely boycotted the Moscow Olympics.

There are plenty of worthy candidates from the London Olympics, among them the rowing pair of Hamish Bond and Eric Murray, single sculler Mahe Drysdale, sprint canoeist Lisa Carrington, shot putter Valerie Adams, yachties Jo Aleh and Olivia Powrie, and another rowing duo, Nathan Cohen and Joseph Sullivan. All won gold medals.

Outside the Olympics there were great performances from the likes of teenage golf prodigy Lydia Ko and the Breakers (basketball), Chiefs (rugby) and Magic (netball) teams that won international competitions.

Even so, it would normally come down to an Olympian. Except Pascoe was sublime at the Paralympics.

The Halberg Trust has taken the dubious step of shovelling disabled sportsmen and women into one Disabled Sportsperson category.

It's a way of honouring them but also sends a message that they can't quite foot it with "real" sportsmen and women. Try telling Pascoe that.

Some Halbergs voters didn't even know if the disabled category winner was eligible for the overall Halberg Award.

Oddly, disabled sport was more advanced in 1992.

That year there was such a strong batch of contenders in the sportswoman section that five finalists, instead of the usual four, were named.

The five were Jenny Newstead (Paralympics swimming, four golds and one silver), Lorraine Moller (Olympic marathon bronze), Susan Devoy (world champion squash), Annelise Coberger (winter Olympics skiing silver) and Barbara Kendall (Olympic boardsailing gold).

There was no thought among voters of Newstead being a token addition. The attitude was that all five had been so brilliant they should all be finalists.

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I floated the idea on radio this month that Pascoe might win the big Halberg gong this year, and was surprised by the reaction of some sports journalists and talkback callers.

They're caught in a 1980s mindset, acknowledging Paralympians as admirable but not willing to concede they are real sports achievers.

I was once like that but eventually the evidence becomes overwhelming that the Paralympians are sports greats, too.

Or I thought it was overwhelming until I gauged the feedback after my Pascoe suggestion.

So this year Bond and Murray will probably win the Halberg Award.

They are truly fantastic - the Usain Bolts of their sport.

Still, a wonderful opportunity is being missed for sport to break a barrier and recognise a Paralympian for the superstar she is.

- The Timaru Herald


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