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South African sport on a high after four Laureus World Sports nominations

South African sport on a high after four Laureus World Sports nominations
Springbok captain Siya Kolisi is one of five nominees for Comeback of the Year for the Laureus World Sports Awards. (Photo: Steve Haag/Gallo Images)

Athletes and organisations in South Africa have earned a record four nominations for the 2024 Laureus World Sports Awards, which take place in Madrid on 22 April.

The Springboks’ glorious defence of their Rugby World Cup (RWC) title in Paris last year has earned them a nomination for World Team of the Year at the prestigious Laureus World Sports awards — the Oscars of sport. 

It’s an award the Boks have won twice previously — in 2008 and 2020 — both following RWC triumphs.

Captain Siya Kolisi also earned a nomination in the Comeback of the Year category, for his miraculous recovery from knee ligament surgery, just four months before RWC 2023, to lead his team to back-t0-back titles.

His almost impossible comeback required the help of great surgeons, doctors and physios, as well as the unwavering support of family and friends. But at the centre of it was Kolisi himself, who had to endure the pain, and put in the hard work to make it to France. 

But it’s not just the rugby team that has brought more joy with their recognition. 

South African sailor Kirsten Neuschäfer  is among the five nominees for the Laureus World Action Sportsperson of the Year Award. This accolade marks her extraordinary achievement of becoming the first female to win a solo round-the-world race via the three Great Capes. 

Rounding off the South African Nominees is Justice Desk Africa, a non-profit in the running for the Laureus Sport for Good Award.

This organisation based in Cape Town empowers young people in South Africa to understand and defend their human rights. The project provides girls with essential mental health support, as well as self-defence classes and leadership sessions.

Six Nominees have been selected in each category, and the names of the Winners will be revealed in Madrid on 22 April, following a vote by the Laureus World Sports Academy — the world’s ultimate sports jury, made up of 69 of the greatest sporting legends of all time. 

“This is such an overwhelming moment for me — to be nominated with the Springboks for Laureus Team of the Year, and also individually for Comeback of the Year,” Kolisi said. 

“I know just what it means to win a Laureus Award. I was lucky enough to be captain of the Springboks in 2019 when we won the World Cup, and as a result, the following year we won Laureus Team of the Year. 

“I’m hoping we can win it again, as always it is a formidable group of teams nominated this year, including Manchester City, Spain’s Women’s World Cup winners and Oracle Red Bull Racing. It was a close thing whether I would recover from injury in time to play in the RWC. I made it, so it’s a very special personal moment for me to receive my nomination.” 

2024 Laureus World Sports Awards – All Nominees. (Graphic supplied)

Battle-weary Boks

The Springboks showed remarkable mental strength as they won their three knockout games at RWC 2023 by a combined three points, with one-point victories over France, and then England and New Zealand.

Their success in France ensured that the Boks became the first team in RWC history to win the Webb Ellis Cup four times, surpassing the record they previously shared with New Zealand. 

Siya Kolisi and the Springboks celebrate a RWC 12-11 victory over the All Blacks in the final at Stade de France in Paris. (Photo: Steve Haag/Gallo Images)

The Springboks also became only the second side after the All Blacks in 2011 and 2015, to win back-to-back world titles. Unlike New Zealand’s success though, the Boks won their back-t0-back titles away from home, and twice had to beat the hosts (Japan in 2019, and France in 2023) at the quarterfinal stage.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Boks’ approach to adversity set them apart in the defining moments of RWC 2023

Although the Boks’ achievement in France last year was monumental, they face tough competition for the prestigious Laureus award.

They are nominated alongside the Spain Women’s Football Team, who won their first World Cup; treble-winners Manchester City; the European Ryder Cup Team, following their dominant victory over American counterparts; the all-conquering Oracle Red Bull Racing Team, who delivered a second straight Formula One World Constructors’ Championship, and the Germany Men’s Basketball Team, for their incredible FIBA Basketball World Cup victory. 

The Springboks are up against tough competition for the 2024 Laureus World Sports Team of the Year. (Graphic: Supplied)

Shortlist

The shortlist for the Laureus World Sportswoman of the Year Award, and Sportsman of the Year, contain not only the outstanding athletes of 2023, but some of the greatest of all time.

Last year’s winner, Lionel Messi, is nominated once more in the latter category, after an eighth Ballon d’Or. Messi is up against tennis star Novak Djokovic, who won three Grand Slams in 2023, Max Verstappen, after a third straight Formula One world championship, and US sprinter Noah Lyles, world champion over 100 and 200 metres, plus the 4×100 metre relay. 

In the Sportswoman of the Year category, nominees include tennis’s World No 1 Iga Świątek, Aitana Bonmatí, the star of Spain’s Fifa World Cup win, and Mikaela Shiffrin, who became the all-time leader in World Cup wins in alpine skiing.

Siya Kolisi – 2024 Laureus World Comeback of the Year Nominee. (Graphic: Supplied)

Sensational Siya

Kolisi’s nomination is a recognition of not only brilliant play, but his mental and physical fortitude to return to the field so soon after a partial tear of his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), playing for the Sharks in April 2023.

In just 98 days after sustaining the injury, Kolisi returned to the field in a Test against Wales in Cardiff, which was remarkable enough. The fact that he performed at such a high level during that match was scarcely believable.

His almost impossible comeback required the help of great surgeons, doctors and physios, as well as the unwavering support of family and friends. But at the centre of it was Kolisi himself, who had to endure the pain, and put in the hard work to make it to France.

The other nominees 

Kolisi has been nominated alongside celebrated gymnast and former Laureus World Sportswoman of the Year Simone Biles, who collected four gold medals at the World Championships, after taking time away from the spotlight to prioritise her mental health. 

Sébastien Haller, the Borussia Dortmund striker who returned to the pitch just months after being diagnosed with testicular cancer, is another worthy nominee. 

Denver Nuggets basketball star, Jamal Murray, who spent 18 months on the sidelines with an ACL tear, before shining in the NBA playoffs; Katarina Johnson-Thompson, who bravely battled back from a series of injuries to win a heptathlon world title in Budapest, and tennis sensation Markéta Vondroušová, who became the lowest-ranked winner at Wimbledon during the Open era after missing most of the previous year with a wrist injury, are the other nominees.

South African skipper Kirsten Neuschäfer on 27 April, 2023. She is one of five nominees for the Laureus World Action Sportsperson of the Year Award. (Photo: Olivier Blanchet/ALeA/Getty Images)

Courageous Kirsten 

The Golden Globe Race is one-of-a-kind, restricting its solo sailors to technology from no later than 1968. For most competitors, this challenge is big enough.

Kirsten Neuschäfer, however, is not like most competitors. She diverted midway through her own race to rescue fellow competitor, Tapio Lehtinen, whose boat had sunk, before eventually crossing the finishing line after more than 235 days at sea to complete a thrilling adventure.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Heroic SA seafarer Kirsten Neuschäfer plots her next adventure after sailing around the world

After almost 235 days and about 48,000km of sailing, her Cape George cutter (named Minnehaha) — without any external assistance or the use of modern technology — was finally over the finish line.

When she docked, Neuschäfer became the first woman and the first South African to win any type of round-the-world race — solo or assisted, retro or modern. 

Her awe-inspiring achievements have been recognised, where she is up against formidable competition.

She features alongside BMX cyclist Beth Shriever, who reclaimed her world title at the 2023 UCI Cycling World Championships in Glasgow, while surfing duo Filipe Toledo and Caroline Marks are also nominated for their respective World Surf League triumphs. 

Street skateboarder Rayssa Leal is a nominee for the second straight year, after winning three major titles in a wonderful season. She is joined on the shortlist by 13-year-old Arisa Trew, who became the first woman skater to land a 720 (two full rotations) in vert skateboarding. DM

 

 

 

 

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