Dutch Wheelchair Tennis player Diede de Groot and Swiss Wheelchair Racer Marcel Hug are among the winners of the 2021 Paralympic Sport Awards as announced by the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) on 16 December.
The awards recognise achievements from the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games across seven categories: Best Female, Best Male, Best Female Debut, Best Male Debut, Best Team, Best Official, and bp Courage Award.
De Groot won the Best Female category after taking the Tokyo 2020 women's singles and doubles titles without dropping a set in either competition. She became the first Wheelchair Tennis player to complete the calendar Golden Slam (winning all four Grand Slam titles and the Paralympic gold medal).
"The release of all the pressure, all the hard work, all the tears that went into it…That's a huge amount of release that you get, of joy.
"It was very special. Looking back at it, when I stood on the podium and the medals were brought in, I saw the medal on the plate and I was like 'Oh, it's mine. That's officially mine'.
"I am very proud to be a double Paralympic champion," said a jubilant de Groot.
Hug took the Best Male award. He made a gold sweep in all the four events - 800m, 1,500m, 5,000m, and the marathon - in the highly competitive T54 Wheelchair Racing class. The ‘Silver Bullet’ in the process also set a new World record in the 1,500m and a Paralympic record in the 5,000m heats.
A delighted Hug said: "I just want to say thank you for this award. For me it's a great honour, it was just an incredible year for me with the Paralympics in Tokyo which were amazing.
"It was a very difficult year with COVID-19, but it was a big extra effort this year to make all these events possible, so thank you."
Great Britain’s gold medal win was historic in many ways: first Wheelchair Rugby gold for GB at a World or Paralympic level; first European team to make the gold medal match; first Paralympic gold for GB in a team sport; and Kylie Grimes became the first woman to win Paralympic gold in the history of the sport.
The British Wheelchair Rugby team bagged the Best Team award.
Captain Jim Roberts said: “The main thing was winning the gold, but it’s been really nice getting this extra recognition for how hard we worked and some of the challenges that we’ve been able to overcome.
“That’s something that I guess now reflecting on it, it’s really nice that other people can share in that a little bit as well.
“Just winning the tournament was the big thing and celebrating with my teammates. And then you realise all the other things that come in. We were the first ParalympicsGB team sport to win a gold medal, first European Wheelchair Rugby team to win gold and we had the first female Wheelchair Rugby athlete to win gold!”
Indian shooting Para sport athlete Avani Lekhara and Czech Republic’s Boccia player Adam Peska took the Best Female Debut and Male Debut accolades, respectively.
Lekhara became the first ever female Paralympic gold medallist from India. The 19-year-old broke the Paralympic record and equalled the World record in the women's 10m SH1 air rifle standing final. She also won bronze in the women's 50m SH1 air rifle standing event to become the first Indian female to win two medals in the Paralympics. It was also India’s first Paralympic medal in shooting.
“It's an honour for me to win this award. The focus was always on giving my best shot, bringing home medals for my country and showing that anything is possible with hard work, dedication and passion.
“I went there, and I just thought ‘take one shot at a time’, and that's what I did. Just keeping my focus on the process, I was able to win a gold medal for my country.”
Peska won Boccia gold in the final of individual BC3 at Tokyo 2020. He managed to win all his matches and claimed gold with a tiebreaker against Greek legend Gregorios Polychronidis.
"It was one of the best feelings in my sports career, and I would like to thank our National Paralympic Committee and all supporters.
“Participating at the Paralympic Games was one of my highest dreams. I was a little nervous, but I felt I needed to play like there is no tomorrow. Greg is an experienced player, and he was number one for many years. I just wanted to enjoy that match.
“I would like to tell others never to surrender your dream or delay it. I want to thank my opponents as they are a great inspiration to me."
The Best Official award went to German Dr Anja Hirschmueller, who was the lead medical official for the German team looking after a team of eight medical directors and 19 physios. Her most notable contribution to the Games was that she helped save the life of Belgian tennis player Joachim Gerard – she provided his initial medical response following the player’s cardiac arrest in the Paralympic Village.
"To be given such an honour and, of course, I right away think about all those people who have been involved in my way, in this Paralympic family. All those emotions came up straight away when I heard about it.
"So, I'm really impressed and very grateful to all the people who have been working for this, and who have given me this honour.
"I have been hearing from Gerard’s team physician that he restarted training. So, I knew that I did not know that he's already nearly returned to competition level so that he might compete at the Australian Open which is perfect news!"
The bp Courage award was won by Russian Paralympic Committee’s Viktoriya Potapova, who won judo bronze in the women’s -48kg at Tokyo 2020.
At the age of two, Potapova was diagnosed with a malignant tumour of the eye and by the age of 10 she had lost her vision. Her life changed when she took up judo and she was able to compete at three Paralympic Games from 2004-2012, taking bronze each time.
However, in 2017 Potapova was diagnosed with a very rare form of cancer. She underwent two operations, where they removed the upper jaw, part of the bones of the nose, part of her eye socket and all affected soft tissues. Not only did she beat cancer again, but she used it as the motivation to get to another Paralympics, taking bronze once again in Tokyo.
"I am so thankful to all the people that surround me. I want to say thank you to my relatives, to my daughter, to my sisters, to all the people who helped me, to my coach, to the people who work in the Russian Paralympic Committee, and I want to say thank you to the organisers.
"When I talked to the doctors, they recommended to me that I should live an ordinary life. And when I heard that, I was like 'why should I quit?' Sport is good for me, so I will keep on doing that. I do not need to think about my disease, I just have to live."