KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA—Formula One world champion Sebastian Vettel and American swimming superstar Missy Franklin picked up the two top prizes at the annual Laureus World Sports Awards on Wednesday.
At a glamorous, if somewhat sombre, ceremony in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Vettel and Franklin won the Sportsman and Sportswoman of the Year awards, respectively, based on their successes in 2013.
Eighteen-year-old Franklin won the main women’s prize after an outstanding year that saw her become the first woman to win six gold medals at a single Swimming World Championships.
“This is such a dream come true,” Franklin, who has eschewed the monetary gains of turning professional to attend the University of California, said after accepting her award. “I have to thank Laureus for even considering me.
“I’m so pleased I was able to come—it’s during my spring break so I am not missing any school! I don't think I ever been so welcomed in a country."
She added: “I met [nine-time Olympic gold medallist] Mark Spitz in the elevator yesterday and it was one of the most amazing moments of my life.”
Vettel, meanwhile, edged out the likes of three-time Laureus winner Usain Bolt, LeBron James and Mo Farah to take the men’s prize, after he won the F1 world title at a canter in 2013. It was his fourth world crown, becoming the youngest driver ever to reach that haul.
It’s a big honour. I think similar to many other sportsmen and women when I was a young kid, and I started competing, I fell in love with my sport and with racing. And I fell in love with the fact that if you did well at the end of the race you win a trophy!
This one is very, very special. It’s not the biggest one I have ever received, but it is one of the most special.
If I learned anything tonight it is that sport surely can be a big inspiration. I think the idea to share that inspiration, especially with young kids, is one of the biggest things we can express.
Vettel also pipped tennis star Rafael Nadal to the main male prize, but the Spaniard did not go home empty-handed after he was named the comeback athlete of the year following a season that saw him win the French Open, US Open and return to world No. 1 during 2013.
"Everybody knows how much it means to me to receive this award," Nadal, who won the breakthrough award in 2006 and main prize in 2011, said via a recorded message. "After how it was the year before with my injury, I never thought I would be able to come back like I did.
"So winning this Laureus probably means more than the other ones."
A number of other high-profile athletes and organisations were recognised at Wednesday’s event, which was attended by the likes of legendary footballer Johan Cruyff, rugby star Dan Carter and actor and musician Jamie Foxx.
Actor Benedict Cumberbatch hosted the proceedings, with the Laureus awards having become referred to as the "Oscars of Sport" in the 15 years it has been running.
Breakthrough of the Year was given to Moto GP world champion Marc Marquez, who stunned many as he won the title at the tender age of 20.
Bayern Munich was named World Team of the Year after they completed a treble, including the Champions League in 2013, while the Afghanistan cricket team was presented with a special Spirit of Sport accolade, after they overcome terrible hardship to qualify for the 2015 Cricket World Cup.
There was a reflective feel to the evening’s proceedings, however, following Monday’s tragic announcement that experts believe Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 almost certainly crashed into the south Indian ocean, likely costing the lives of all 239 people on board.
“At this difficult moment we draw strength from individual’s stories of perseverance,” Malaysia prime minister Najib Razak said at the ceremony.
Franklin also expressed her condolences while accepting her award, saying: “Please know that my thoughts, and those of billions of others around the world, are with you at this difficult time.”
The awards ceremony was the conclusion to a number of days of community events in the Malaysian capital, with Laureus ambassadors including skateboarding legend Tony Hawk and rugby World Cup winners Sean Fitzpatrick and Morne du Plessis visiting local facilities to offer support and advice to young athletes.
The Laureus Sport for Good Foundation also announced an agreement to develop a number of sports community projects in Malaysia over the coming years.
“The nominees can get the world’s attention just by being here,” prime minister Razak added. “The gaze of the world’s media follows them wherever they go. What Laureus does so well is harness that attention and focus it for a noble cause.”
Elsewhere, action sportsperson of the year was British BMX rider Jamie Bestwick, who won his record-breaking eighth successive X-Games gold in 2013 at the age of 42, while Sportsperson of the Year with a Disability was Marie Bochet after she won all five events at a single Alpine Skiing World Championships.
A special Sport for Good prize was also given to Magic Bus, a sports-based community project in India.
The full list of 2014 Laureus World Sport Awards winners:
Sportsman of the Year: Sebastian Vettel
Sportswoman of the Year: Missy Franklin
Team of the Year: Bayern Munich
Spirit of Sport Award: Afghanistan cricket team
Breakthrough of the Year: Marc Marquez
Comeback of the Year: Rafael Nadal
Sportsperson of the Year with a Disability: Marie Bochet
Action Sportsperson of the Year: Jamie Bestwick
Sport for Good Award: Magic Bus