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Laureus World Sportsman of the Year Novak Djokovic reveals story behind comeback

The standing ovations and the longest cheers were reserved for recently-retired Alpine skier Lindsey Vonn, football manager Arsene Wenger and Indian NGO Yuwa for winning the Laureus Sport for Good Award for empowering women in Jharkhand through soccer.

Updated: Feb 19, 2019 09:19:37

By Soumitra Bose

Laureus World Sportsman of The Year 2019 winner Serbia's tennis player Novak Djokovic poses with his award. (AFP)

Stories of dramatic comebacks, tales that go beyond the locker rooms and extraordinary examples of determination to overcome challenges were the highlights of the 2019 Laureus World Sports Awards in Monaco on Monday. Novak Djokovic won the Best Sportsman of the year award and US gymnast Simone Biles vaulted to her maiden sportswoman title as a galaxy of superstars lit up the Mediterranean seafront in Monte Carlo on a chilly evening.

The best accolades didn’t go to Djokovic – he equalled Usain Bolt’s four awards – or Biles (she is busy hosting an event in Houston) or even the French national team that won the Team of the Year title for the second time. The standing ovations and the longest cheers were reserved for recently-retired Alpine skier Lindsey Vonn, football manager Arsene Wenger and Indian NGO Yuwa for winning the Laureus Sport for Good Award for empowering women in Jharkhand through soccer.

Regarded as the greatest women’s skier of all times not because of her four World Cup titles and three Olympic medals but for the sheer tenacity to comeback after a slew of career-threatening injuries, Vonn broke down on stage while receiving the Laureus Spirit of the Sport award.

From broken bones, torn ligaments and more, Vonn had all kinds of injuries. During the Turin Olympics in 2006, she was helicoptered off after a body-battering crash during training. Forty eight hours later, she was on her skis competing!



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“Sport has unique opportunity to change people in ways that you never expected. My comebacks made me a stronger person. I am sad leaving my sport but want do something in my life that is even more incredible,” said Vonn, often choking with emotion.

Man behind careers

Wenger received the Lifetime Achievement award from Cesc Fabregas and Allesandro del Piero. Fabregas called the former Arsenal manager a “father figure” and his mentor. In front of Fabio Capello and Didier Deschamps, the 69-year-old Frenchman revealed the philosophy of the quintessential coach.

“Our life is about give and take. Our job is mainly give but I must say the moment when we take are exception. I had a long career but my passion for sport is intact. My passion for human being is intact. We must thank sports for giving us the wonderful emotions throughout the year.”

For Djokovic, it wasn’t the usual speech after winning a Grand Slam victory, it was a revelation of a “fairy tale story” where his wife Jelena Ristic played a huge part in resurrecting a career that was on the verge of destruction.

Not just tennis

The Djokovics, who on February 12 opened a kindergarten in Serbia for 150 kids, revealed how they conquered the challenges of low life energy after a serious elbow injury that threatened Novak’s future in 2017. He had a surgery in February 2018 on a troublesome elbow due to which he lost to unseeded South Korean Chung Hyeon in the last 16 of the Australian Open.

His middle name should be “stubbornness”, said Jelena, who added that for her husband tennis was “not about money or glory but for value and purpose.”

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The current world No. 1 and the winner of 15 Grand Slam title said how “inner engineering” helped him comeback stronger in the last 15 months. Djokovic disclosed his wife’s support that helped him overcome doubts. The Serbian reportedly follows Buddhist meditation methods.

“I had lost balance. It took me several months to find my purpose. Look inside when you face a challenge. I now know where to find strength and motivation,” said Djokovic to draw curtains on a lovely evening that highlighted what keeps the real champions going.

The award winners:

Best Sportsperson: Novak Djokovic (tennis, Serbia)

Best Sportswoman: Simone Biles (gymnastics, US)

Breakthrough of the Year: Naomi Osaka (tennis, Japan)

Comeback of the Year: Tiger Woods (golf, US)

Team of the Year: French FIFA World Cup-winning team

Action Sportsperson of the Year: Chloe Kim (Snowboarding, US)

Sportsperson of the Year with a disability: Henrieta Farkasova (Alpine skier, Slovakia) and her guide Natalia Subrtova

Exceptional Achievement Award: Eliud Kipchoge (Marathon, Kenya)

Spirit of Sport: Lindsey Vonn (Skiing, US)

Sporting Moment of the Year: Xia Boyu (mountaineer, China)

Lifetime Achievement: Arsene Wenger (football, France)

Sport for Good: Yuwa (India)

First Published: Feb 19, 2019 09:16:33

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