In an event branded as the Oscar equivalent of sports, the annual Laureus Awards ceremony brings together the who’s who of sports every year under one roof. It wasn’t any different on the night of Monday April 18, 2016, when celebrated sportspersons from around the world gathered in Berlin for the grand occasion. Befitting the mega event, the venue was in the heart of the German capital at the Messe Berlin Palais am Funkturm. It was the 17th Sports Awards Ceremony after it made its debut in 2000, when it was held for the first time in Monaco. Just as what happens at Hollywood, emotions ran high at the ceremony and many sports people were moved to tears over the course of the night that celebrated sporting legends and their remarkable achievements. Top individual awards of Sportsman of the Year and Sportswoman of the Year were taken respectively by Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams while triple Formula-one champion Niki Lauda bagged the lifetime achievement award. The rare gathering of top sporting personalities at Berlin assumed bigger importance since 2016 is the Olympic year and many of those present at the venue will vie for gold medals at Rio in a few months’ time.
Novak Djokovic won the Laureus World Sportsman of the Year for the second consecutive year edging out nominees like footballer Lionel Messi, 2015 F1 champion Lewis Hamilton and sprinter Usain Bolt. In his tearful acceptance speech, Djokovic dedicated the award to Niki Lauda and late football legend Netherlands’ Johan Cruyff, who died last month. The Serb said these two people were his inspiration. Djokovic had won the singles bronze medal at 2008 Beijing Games and looks all set to take the gold at the Rio Olympics this year. It was the third time that Djokovic has taken the top honors having also won in 2012 and 2015.
Serena Williams was another tennis star, who won the 2016 Laureus World Sportswoman of the Year Award making it the fourth time for herself. She equaled the record of fellow tennis star Roger Federer, who won the prestigious award from 2005-2008. Serena and Djokovic both won three Grand Slam events in 2015. Serena is a winner of four Olympic gold medals including the singles gold at London in 2012. She will be strong contender for defending her title at Rio, which could also be her last Olympic Games. Serena was not personally present in the Awards Ceremony.
Taking the 2016 Laureus Lifetime Achievement award, Niki Lauda moved the audience to tears with his acceptance speech. Lauda dedicated his award to losers because he thought; out of losing, he always learnt to become stronger. The 67-year old Lauda almost lost his life in a near-fatal crash during the 1976 German Grand Prix at Nurburgring Circuit and suffered extensive scarring. However, Lauda not only returned to the track in six weeks, he won his second world championship in 1977. Lauda’s story is a huge source of inspiration for sportsmen and others, recovering from adversity.
More people cried, when the son of Dutch football legend Johan Cruyff came to stage for receiving Spirit of Sport award on behalf of his late father. Jordi Cruyff is a professional footballer himself and he said that he had intended to stand on this stage alongside his father but had to accept the prize alone.
As if to celebrate the return of rugby at Rio after 92 years, New Zealand’s All Black rugby union team won the Laureus Team Award. The award came in recognition to the All Blacks’ 2015 victory in the Rugby World Cup. The team’s star performer Dan Carter received Laureus Comeback of the Year Award.
Another sport making its return to Olympics is Golf, which was last included 112 years ago at the 1904 Olympic Games in St. Louis, Missouri. Fittingly, golfer Jordan Spieth was awarded the Laureus Breakthrough of the Year Award for winning two out of four major tournaments in 2015. Spieth will be targeting for the Gold in 4 months’ time at Rio.
To the delight of the Berliners, Laureus Action Sports award was won by Germany’s Jan Frodeno, who became the first man to win both Ironman World Championship and an Olympic triathlon gold medal. Brazilian Paralympic swimmer Daniel Dias took the Laureus Disability Award for the record third time. In his speech, Dias thanked everyone and said the award would give him encouragement to win the gold medal for Brazil in September’s Paralympic Games at Rio.
In the emotion-ridden ceremony, American actor and comedian Bill Murray brought a few lighter moments and some laughter. Murray said that Laureus must be the only awards ceremony where celebrities in dinner jackets and designer dresses wore trainers on their feet presumably to get out early. There was also a reference to a charity initiative – #SneakersforGood – that encouraged sportsmen and guests to turn up in sports shoes.