Australia’s best athletes of 2017 were honoured tonight at the 2018 Athletics Australia Gala Dinner held on the Gold Coast following a very successful Australian Athletics Championships & Nomination Trial.
After an inspiring year where she returned to peak form, Sally Pearson was named the Female Athlete of the Year following her courageous comeback 2017 season. Competing at the world championships in August she returned the same London track where she had become Olympic champion five years earlier. With a loaded field, including world record holder Kendra Harrison (USA), Pearson was unstoppable winning the title. The performance spring-boarded her into her 2018 campaign which will see her in six weeks attempt to defend her Commonwealth Games crown in her home town the Gold Coast.
Another athlete who was also world champion on the same London track, Isis Holt, was tonight named the Para Female Athlete of the Year. Like Pearson, she had won gold at the world championships, but Holt went one better and broke her own T35 100m world record. She also claimed the 200m title in a championships record.
Race walker, Dane Bird-Smith (Qld) was named the men’s Athlete of the Year. After opening the year winning the Oceania 20km walk title in Adelaide in February. Mid-year, Bird-Smith was the best placed Australian at the London World championships, finishing sixth in a personal best time of 1:19.28 minutes, to miss his father and coach David’s personal best by just six seconds. They remain the fifth and sixth best in Australian history.
The fourth recipient on the evening was James Turner who was named Para Male Athlete of the Year for his astonishing three-gold medal haul at the London Para-Athletics World Championships. Turner who make his Paralympic debut in Rio over 800m, added the 200m and 400m to his program winning all three in London. He started with an impact breaking the T36 200m world record in his heat and again in the final.
The inaugural Betty Cuthbert Medal was also awarded to the athlete with the best performance at the 2018 Australian Athletics Championships & Nomination Trial. Teenage sprinter Riley Day was the first recipient of the prestigious medal for her performance in winning the open sprint double at the Australian Championships at the age of 17. Her 200m performance of 22.93 was the third fastest in Australian junior history, behind two athletes Raelene Boyle and Jenny Lamy who placed second and third at the 1968 Mexico Olympics.