Geneva, Switzerland – Olympic Show Jumping Champion Eric Lamaze of Schomberg, ON, was named ‘Rider of the Year’ as well as the CBC Sports ‘Athlete of the Year’ for 2011. During a special presentation held Saturday evening, December 10, during the CSI5*-W Geneva show jumping tournament in Switzerland, Lamaze was recognized as the ‘Rider of the Year’ for the second year in a row.
The winner of the ‘Rider of the Year’ title is determined by a vote by the members of the International Jumping Riders Club, and is awarded by the equestrian publication yearbook, L’Annee Hippique. Publisher Eric Bruger made the presentation to Lamaze before fellow show jumping competitor, Steve Guerdat of Switzerland, addressed the audience.
“It is an honour to receive this award, which is extremely important to me because it is voted on by the riders,” said Lamaze, who was visibly moved during the presentation. “After Mr. Bruger presented the award, Steve said some nice words to the crowd. He is a good friend of mine and he always loved Hickstead. He talked about the horse and told the crowd not to be sad, that Hickstead would have wanted to hear them clapping and cheering. The crowd stood up and gave a standing ovation. It was very special.”
The following day, December 11, the CBC Sports ‘Athlete of the Year’ was announced by commentator Scott Russell during the Sunday afternoon sports program. An on-line poll conducted on the CBC Sports website allowed the public to cast their vote for 12 Canadian athlete nominees. Olympic champions Lamaze and Hickstead received the overwhelming majority of the vote, earning 56.9 percent while world figure skating champion Patrick Chan finished second in the poll with 11.6 percent of the vote.
“Together they were the best in the world and, for many Canadians, restored a sense of wonder to sport in 2011,” said Russell of the results. “We are proud to name Eric and Hickstead as the ‘Athlete of the Year.’”
Russell interviewed Lamaze by telephone from Geneva, marking the first interview that Lamaze has given since Hickstead’s tragic death, resulting from a ruptured aorta, on November 6.
“Equestrian is not mainstream like baseball or hockey or basketball, so it is an honour for our sport to have a show jumping athlete win,” said Lamaze. “People have been more than kind; I am still receiving e-mails and good wishes. Everywhere I have showed, Toronto, Paris and now Geneva, the crowds have been crazy. It is hard to put into words how it feels to have so much support from the fans.”
Geneva was the final event of the year on Lamaze’s competition schedule. The Olympic champion closed out the 2011 season as the number one show jumping rider in the world in the Rolex Rider Rankings. In his last major victory riding Hickstead, the pair won the $1 million CN International on September 11 at the Spruce Meadows “Masters” Tournament for the second time, bringing Lamaze’s career earnings at the Calgary venue to more than $3.3 million and placing him firmly atop the Spruce Meadows all-time money won list.
Lamaze will now relocate from his base in Brussels, Belgium, to Wellington, Florida. He will spend the first three months of 2012 competing at the 12-week Winter Equestrian Festival, which opens January 11.
Photo: Eric Bruger (left), publisher of L’Annee Hippique, presents Eric Lamaze with the 2011 ‘Rider of the Year’ Award at CSI5*-W Geneva, Switzerland. Photo Credit – Kit Houghton