Boxing World Champion and dual sport para-athlete take out Gold Coast Sports Star and Para-Sport Star of the Year Awards

WORDS: Tamara Morris PHOTOGRAPHY Supplied

Boxing world champion and dual sport para-athlete take out Sports Star and Para Sport Star of the Year Awards

Gold Coast Olympian and unbeaten world boxing champion, Jai Opetaia was crowned the Gold Coast 2022 Sports Star of the Year at a star-studded event at RACV Royal Pines Resort this evening.

Sports Star of the Year – Jai Opetaia

With twenty-two professional fights and twenty-two wins under his glittering belt, Jai holds both the IBF and The Ring cruiserweight titles.

He kicked off a career which has spanned more than 10 years with a light heavyweight title at the 2011 Junior Championships followed by a Junior World Title in Kazakhstan.

And at just 16 years he became the youngest ever Australian boxer to qualify for the Olympics, competing in the heavyweight division at the London Games.

Opetaia pipped an illustrious field of Gold Coast sporting stars to take out the award, including last year’s Sports Star of the Year recipient swimmer Emma McKeon and fellow swimmer Elijah Winnington, canoeist Jean Van der Westhuyzen, surf lifesaving legend Ali Day, Titan Tino Fa’asuamaleaui, BMX freestyler Logan Martin, motorsport’s Shane Van Gisbergen, surfer Stephanie Gilmour and rugby’s Maddison Levi.

The Para Sports Star of the Year Award went to wheelchair basketball and wheelchair rugby superstar Ella Sabljak.

Para Sport Star of the Year – Ella Sabljak and Anne Louise Kassulke

A silver medallist in the first ever 3×3 wheelchair basketball tournament at the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games, Ella made a switch to rugby later the same year and earned selection for the Australian Steelers rugby outfit in September 2022.

In doing so she became only the third female athlete to represent Australia in wheelchair rugby when she and her teammates defeated the USA in Denmark to take out the IWRF World Championship.

In doing so they became the first Australian women to win a world championship or Paralympic medal in the sport.

It was a tight contest for the Gold Coast Para Sport Star Award with Oceania Triathlon Para Championship silver track medallist Sara-Ashlee Tait, Paralympian canoeist Susan Seipel and World Para Swimming Championship medallist Madeleine McTernan all in close contention for the award.

Gold Coast Mayor Tom Tate, an active champion of grassroots sport, couldn’t choose between two local sporting stars for his award this year.

In the end Mayor Tate presented Olympic medallist and 400m freestyle World Champion Elijah Winnington and 2022 Sevens Rugby World Cup series winning team member Maddison Levi with the 2022 City of Gold Coast Mayor’s Award.

The Eximm Sport Junior Volunteer of the Year Award was presented to Hayley Bell who took out the hotly contested award for her tireless voluntary work at the Phoenix Netball Club.

It’s an award that recognises a young individual who makes a significant contribution to their local sports community through their volunteer work.

And in recognition of his ongoing superstar feats in the swimming pool, last year’s Junior Sport Star of the Year, Bond University student, Flynn Southam, took out the award again having won three gold medals at the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games and four gold and two silver medals at the 2022 Junior Pan Pac Championships.

Flynn Southam – Junior Sport Star of the Year

The Daphne Pirie MBE AO Spirit of Sport Medal – a prestigious gong presented to a local athlete, coach, administrator, or sport volunteer who epitomises the true meaning of sportsmanship – was awarded to Hollywell resident, Barbara Northcott.

Barbara has been a player, coach, referee/umpire, an official and an administrator in hockey, croquet, and the para sport of gateball.

A former captain and coach of the Queensland Veteran Women’s Hockey team Barbara went on to play croquet at the highest-level representing Australia at the Melbourne 2020 Association Croquet World Qualifying Championships.

She is renowned in her sporting community for her creativity and drive and mentoring of younger players.

The 2022 Hot Tomato People’s Choice Grassroots Team Award was taken out by the first club in Southeast Queensland to develop a junior dragon boating program.

Voted by the radio station listeners, the Coomera Dragon Boating Club has fostered many junior paddlers since it started, enabling them to compete at regattas from the Sunshine Coast to Coolangatta.

The two new additions to the Gold Coast Sports Star Awards both attracted exceptional entries with the Sport Technology/Innovation Award going to ‘One on One Football’.

The online based business offers services for AFL footballers and coaches from mentoring programs to tips on training, drills and skills.

Sport Photographer of the Year winner, Brooke Sleep took out the inaugural photographic award for her photo that captured the essence of camaraderie, solidarity, and sportsmanship within the women’s AFL team. The black and white image showed the team rallying around a team member injured during the game.

Sports Gold Coast Chairman Geoff Smith said the awards had been a huge success again with 500 sports stars and guests celebrating the achievements of the city’s sporting stars and all those in the community who bring sport to life.

“The Gold Coast Sports and Para Sports Awards have been an iconic celebration of sport and our past, present and future sporting champions since its inception in 1968.

“As we head towards the 2032 Olympics it’s critical that we continue to showcase our sporting stars and our sporting assets with the awards essential in the promotion, development and recognition of the city as a world class sporting, tourism and event destination. “

St Stephens Drum Line