Nick Skelton added one more accolade to his extraordinary bounty when he was named Best Athlete at the FEI Awards on Tuesday, 22 November.
Held at the Park Tower Hotel in Tokyo, the 2016 edition of the FEI’s annual awards celebrated “the outstanding work” of talented equestrian athletes and the people who support them.
This year, the judging panel, which included Japanese Olympic Committee President and FEI Honorary Vice-President Tsunekazu Takeda, FEI President Ingmar de Vos, last year’s best athlete Boyd Exell and British television presenter Liz Price, had their work cut out as they weighed the relative merit of a record number of nominations.
In the end, however, Skelton, who put in an exceptional performance to claim the individual Olympic gold title in Rio last August, emerged as the winner in the Best Athlete category, which honours competitors who have “demonstrated exceptional skill in the arena and taken the sport to a new level.”
“I would like to thank the FEI for this most fabulous award”, Skelton said. “I’ve had an incredible year and this award makes it even better. I would like to thank the team that is behind me and Big Star for all their hard work and patience.”
And it was a double win for team Skelton as Mark Beever, who has been Skelton’s groom for an astounding 31 years, scooped up the Groom of the Year award. “I would just like to say thanks to everybody that voted for me”, Beever said. “It’s not just all about me. It’s a big team, a lot of hard work, but it all paid off in the end. Thank you to everybody and the FEI for doing this for me.”
The other accolades went to Germany’s Sönke Rothenberger, who, with his horse, Cosmo, not only made up the youngest combination to compete in Rio but also went on to win team gold and deservedly earned the Longines Rising Star award, the Moroccan Equestrian Federation, who won the Solidarity Award for their excellent work in developing equestrian sports in their country and Brazil’s Rodolpho Riskalla, who claimed the Against All Odds Award.
Riskalla had been on the radar for Brazil’s Olympic dressage team when he caught meningitis in 2015 and had to have both his feet and most of his fingers amputated. Barely out of hospital, the 31-year-old learned to ride again using prosthetic legs and made his dream of representing his country come true when he competed at the Paralympics in September.
“To win the FEI Awards, it’s like the Oscars, it’s like being a superstar”, he said. “But also, to win Against All Odds represents exactly what happened to me this last year. Before this I never believed a human being could be so strong and adapt so quickly, it’s something that’s come from inside, it’s like the Olympic spirit. It’s something that is inside you and I am really proud to be a para dressage rider, a Paralympian and to be a representative of our discipline.”
FEI President Ingmar De Vos also celebrated the five winners: “These talented and dedicated [people] constantly inspire future generations of athletes, and not just equestrian athletes, and can literally change lives and communities. The FEI is very proud to honour and acknowledge these achievements.”
Image: Nick Skelton by Richard Juiliart, courtesy of the FEI