Four-time Commonwealth Games gold medallist Cathy Freeman OAM has been recognised with the National Lifetime Achievement Award at the National Indigenous Sports Foundation Awards, held on Saturday night.
The awards, which returned for the first time in 20 years and were celebrated at the MCG, recognised Indigenous excellence in sport with the revised format celebrating both professional and grassroots sport.
Freeman, who earned the accolade on the back of an unequaled five-time National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Sports Women Awards, including four straight from 1995 to 2001, was given a standing ovation when announced as the recipient on Saturday.
The Kuku Yalanji and Birra Gubba woman also won gold at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games and silver at the Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games, and memorably lit the torch at the Opening Ceremony of the Sydney Games.
Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games gold medallist Ash Gardner was also recognised, presented the historic first National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Sportsperson of the Year Award.
The Muruwari woman and all-rounder was rated the world’s best female cricketer this year after winning the ICC Player of the Month four times and recording a women’s record best figures of 8-66 in the one-off Ashes Test in England, amongst her other achievements on the field.
The late Kevin Coombs OAM, who captained the silver-medal basketball team at the 1974 Commonwealth Paraplegic Games, was named the inaugural recipient of the National Trailblazer Award recipient.
The first Indigenous athlete to represent Australia at either a Paralympic or Olympic Games, he went on to represent Australia at five Paralympic Games, and played a pivotal role in the advancement of disabled sports in Victoria, notably through his association with Wheelchair Sports Victoria, now known as Disability Sport and Recreation.
The judging panel for the awards included prominent former sport stars, Wallabies rugby great Mark Ella, NRL and AFL veteran campaigners Dean Widders and Neville Jetta, and Olympic sprinter Kyle Vander-Kuyp.
National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Award Winners:
National Sports Volunteer of the Year – Jenny Pryor (Bindal Sharks Indigenous rugby league)
National Sporting Organisation of the Year – Torres Strait Youth and Recreation Sports Association
National Sportsperson with a Disability of the Year – Amanda Reid (paracycling and multisport Paralympian)
National Sports Official of the Year – Jacqui Dover (NBL/WNBL referee)
National Sports Media Representative of the Year – Jake Duke (Fox Sports reporter)
National Sports Coach of the Year – Ronald Griffiths (rugby league)
National Junior Sportsperson of the Year – Jessie May-Hall (basketball)
National Sporting Competition of the Year – National Indigenous Basketball Association
National Sports Team of the Year – Walgett Aboriginal Connection (Koori Knockout rugby league)
National Sportsperson of the Year – Ash Gardner (cricket)
National Senior Elder Sportsperson of the Year – Pam Pedersen (running)
National Lifetime Achievement Award – Cathy Freeman (athletics)
National Trailblazer Award – Kevin Coombs (Paralympics basketball)
With thanks to the National Indigenous Times.