Formerly known as ETU, the Europe Triathlon Awards for the 2022 season were presented on Saturday evening at the x-Bionic sphere in Samorin, Slovakia. That’s a venue well known to triathletes in recent years as host to events such as the Challenge Family Championship, Collins Cup and the World Triathlon Multisport Championships.
Since the 2016 first edition in Paris and rotating annually, the awards have been held on the Saturday evening as part of the annual Presidents’ Conference and Gala Dinner, and as with the previous six editions to date, I was invited to MC / compere the event on behalf of Europe Triathlon, the Slovak Triathlon Federation and the x-Bionic hosts.
Standing ovation for Non Stanford
As well as the presentation of awards, the evening always features a few invited guest speakers, and this year that included Great Britain’s Non Stanford. In her final year in the sport as an athlete (Non is now a coach with British Triathlon), Non was able to produce the sort of fairytale ending that athletes dream about and “step away on her own terms.”
After bringing Team Wales home to a brilliant silver medal in the Mixed Team Relay at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, perhaps even greater heights followed. Heading to the European Championships in Munich in August, few had Stanford pencilled in as a likely medallist, let alone race favourite.
Rolling back the years to the form that had seen her become World Triathlon Champion in 2013, Stanford produced one of the most memorable performances of the season, to take the gold medal. In what would be her final individual start in Great Britain colours, what a way to bow out.
Reflecting on the ups-and-downs of a career that has seen plenty of time on the sidelines trying to recovery from injuries, crashes and chronic fatigue, as well as championship success, Stanford reflected, “As athletes we all dream of perfect endings, those Picasso moments, but sport can’t be like that all of the time… the reality is I’ve painted plenty of duds along the way, too!”
Non was accompanied to the event by her Mum, Gill, who as Non told me in our extended interview last year, had provided the reality check – in her own career as a top-level gymnastics coach and judge – that if Non’s Olympic ambitions were to be met, then the floor, vault, beam, and uneven bars were not going to provide the route to get there. No sugar-coating it!
I asked Gill to join us on the stage, and as well as recounting that story, to also find out what had made her the most proud during her daughter’s success. It wasn’t medals or wins, but the literally hundreds of messages and comments that she received from supporters, other athletes, children and fans about how Non had conducted her career; that so many people saw her as a role model, competing with integrity, honesty and with respect for the sport, whether she was winning or losing. It was a genuine and emotional reflection on a great career.
The final presentation of the evening is the Executive Board Award, one that resides within the discretion of the Europe Triathlon Board itself, and over the years has been presented to athletes, technical officials, organisers and others who have made a notable contribution to the sport in many different ways.
Europe Triathlon President, Renato Bertrandi, announced that Non was their unanimous choice this year, and she received appropriate applause from the entire room.
Munich takes Event of the Year
While Stanford’s success in the Olympiapark was one of the stories of the season, the event itself was also something special. Part of the wider multisport European Championships – with Athletics, Rowing, Sport Climbing, Gymnastics and more also taking place in the city over a 10-day period – it was also an incredible visual spectacle. Tens of thousands of fans lined the course, which made great use of the terrain on which the 1972 Olympic venue was built, and combined with great racing, produced a fine broadcast experience too, watched by millions around Europe.
I commented at the time that, perhaps, a potential future World Cup of WTCS venue would be a fantastic legacy for all of the work that had obviously gone in. Time will tell on that front, but the event clearly impressed the Europe Triathlon Board and the criteria set, to take the Event of the Year title.
There was another Munich connection too, as Leo Bergere – who ended 2022 as the European Champion (Individual and Mixed Team Relay) and World Triathlon Champion after that stunning finale in Abu Dhabi, received the Male Athlete of the Year Award. He was was unable to be there in person to collect it, having raced at the Abu Dhabi WTCS event a day earlier, where he finished sixth.
Florian flys in
One man who had made a significant effort to attend was the Male Paratriathlete of the Year, Florian Brungraber. The Austrian PTWC athlete had raced at the World Triathlon Para Cup event in Abu Dhabi on Friday, but had still managed to get himself to Samorin by Saturday evening. As a PTWC (Wheelchair) athlete, with all of the equipment that involves, an endurance effort in itself!
Florian was one of the winners at the World Para Series race in Swansea and also finished second at the World Championship to one of the greatest para athletes ever, Jetze Plat, who won this award last year. A silver medal winner at the Paralympic Games in Tokyo, Brungraber’s focus now is Paris 2024, where another chance to take on the legendary Dutchman surely awaits.
One of the really nice touches that Europe Triathlon have always done with these awards is personalise them to the recipient. In the case of the para awards, the standard swim-bike-run motifs on the ceramic awards are adjusted where appropriate to the format of the athlete racing.
In the case of Florian for example, his award reflected a hand-cycle and racing wheelchair.
Congratulations to all of the nominees and winners, and a personal thank you to the Board of Europe Triathlon for once again inviting me to host the event.
Full Awards listing for 2022
- Developing National Federation of the Year – Latvia
- National Federation of the Year – Spain
- Technical Official of the Year – Kalle Jensen (NOR)
- Local Organising Committee/Event of the Year – European Championships Munich
- Female Athlete of the Year – Nina Eim (GER)
- Male Athlete of the Year – Leo Bergere (FRA)
- Female Paratriathlete of the Year – Francesco Tarentello (ITA) – PTVI
- Male Paratriathlete of the Year – Florian Brungraber (AUT) – PTWC
- Executive Board Award – Non Stanford