There was an interesting but nonetheless popular choice as the winner of the annual Sunday Times & Sky Sports Sportswoman of the year title on Wednesday, as the sport of dressage was honoured when Charlotte Dujardin took away the major prize. Team of the Year went to the England women's rugby union team after they won the World Cup for the first time in twenty years earlier this year.
The event has been held for the past 27 years and acts as a celebration of outstanding contributions made to sport by not just the elite stars and their coaches, but also to recognise the efforts of some of the unsung heroines behind the scenes, such as administrators and community volunteers.
Dujardin beat off stiff opposition from Fran Halsall in swimming (who seems to have found great form this year and medalled in the major events), Laura Massaro in squash (consistently in the top two or three in the World), Jo Pavey in athletics ('Supermum' and European 10k winner), Jo Rowsell (track cyclist supreme) and Lizzy Yarnold (Winter Olympic gold medallist in Sochi in the skeleton).Yarnold was voted as the runner-up with Pavey third.
Dressage in Britain has enjoyed something of a renaissance in recent years, with Dujardin seeming to have taken the sport by storm with double Olympic Gold at London 2012 in partnership with her horse Valegro. She backed that success up with further titles at World and European level and was victorious at this year's dressage World Cup finals in Lyon. She must be among the favourites to repeat her success in Rio 2016, although any sport involving horses has to temper the expectation with the reality of transporting the animals across the world and how they will react to that change. Clearly being on home soil is always something of an advantage in that respect, as the disruption and practicalities are much simplified and the weather conditions more expected and familiar.
Team of the Year was a hotly contested award and was voted for by the readers of the Sunday Times and viewers of Sky Sports. They opted to choose the World Cup- winning England rugby union team for the honour, as they finally took the trophy by beating Canada in the final, after losing the previous three finals. There was top competition for the title from the other nominated teams, in the form of the England women's cricket team (who retained the Ashes against Australia), the GB 4 x 100m women's athletics relay squad (as they broke the 34- year national record during the summer and became European champions) and the rowing partnership of Helen Glover and Heather Stanning (who have built on London 2012 Olympic Gold by winning the coxless pairs event at the World Championships in August).
Another sportswoman to rightly be rewarded for her efforts was Stephanie Slater as Disability Sportswoman of the Year, after her fantastic haul of seven gold medals at the IPC European swimming championships.
The Young Sportswoman award went to Britain's teenage gymnastic sensation, Claudia Fragapane who blasted on to the scene during the Commonwealth Games this summer taking four gold medals for England, matching the feat of Joyce Cooper all of 84 years before her. She also competed at the European Championships for Great Britain later in the year, helping the team to overall silver, to demonstrate her undoubted talents on a global stage and great promise for the future.
Recognition was also befitting for Sue Frett with the Community Award, as founder of the Surrey branch of the Special Olympics Great Britain, and Louise Martin took the Lifetime Achievement Award. The award was a timely tribute after the wonderful event put on in Glasgow earlier in the summer, as Martin is a stalwart of the Commonwealth Games' movement as a competitor, team manager and administrator during her lifetime.
The event provided a fitting showcase for some of the top British female sporting talent (both competitively and supporting other people's achievements) and the recognition will hopefully provide them with a fillip going forward to continue (or even surpass) their recent performance levels.