Five-time wheelchair racing Paralympic champion Leo-Pekka Tahti became the first Finish Para athlete to have received the ‘Sports Personality of the Year’ award, whilst table tennis pair Andela Muzinic and Helena Dretar Karic were named ‘Best Croatian Female Team’ in 2016.
Tahti received more than half of the votes cast by the members of the Finland Sport Journalist Union to win the 70th edition of the award ahead of tennis player Henri Kontinen, who won the doubles mixed event at Wimbledon, and Rio Olympics boxing bronze medallist Mira Potkonen.
The 33-year-old picked up the award at a gala held in Helsinki, Finland. Last year, Tahti won his fifth Paralympic gold medal in the men’s 100m T54 in Rio.
“This crowns my career and is a reward for the path travelled all these years,” he said.
“A special thanks to the Finnish Paralympic Committee for putting us, Para athletes, in an equal position with able-bodied athletes. I believe this victory will make a way for other Para athletes in the future.”
At the same time, Rio 2016 silver medallists Andela Muzinic and Helena Dretar-Karic were chosen the ‘Best Female Team’ in Croatia, in 2016, the first time this award is given to Para athletes in the European country.
The pair finished as runner-up in the women’s team classes 1-3 at Latin America’s first Paralympics.
Journalists from across the country participated in the voting, with the karate national team coming in second and the crossbow team in third.
"This is a historic day for the two of us, but also for Paralympic sport and all Para athletes in Croatia,” said Dretar-Karic after receiving the award.
Rio Paralympics table tennis champion Sandra Paovic finished third in the voting for ‘Best Athlete of the Year’, behind Olympic athletics gold medallists Sandra Perkovic and Sara Kolak.