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Valerie Vili takes supreme Halberg Award

A winning throw at the the 2007 world athletics championships has delivered a double for shot put thrower Valerie Vili at tonight's 57th Halberg awards ceremony in Christchurch.

Vili, a former world youth and junior champion, was named the winner of the supreme prize after picking up the sportswoman of the year title.

She became the first athlete in 10 years since Beatrice Faumuina in 1997 to win the Halberg supreme award.

Vili, 23, from Pakuranga was not at the awards ceremony, opting to compete in an important International Association of Athletics Federations sanctioned meeting at Waitakere Stadium today.

Vili was presented with her silver trophy at an emotional ceremony at Waitakere Stadium by former Halberg supreme award winner, Danyon Loader, winner of two swimming gold medals at the 1996 Olympics.

The other contenders for the supreme award were world single scull rowing champion Mahe Drysdale and the world champion coxless four rowing team.

Winning New Zealand's premier sporting prize, was the culmination of a fabulous 12 months for Vili.

As well as winning the shot put world title in Osaka with her final throw of 20.54m, a world best for 2007 and a national and Oceania record, Vili also became only the third athlete ever, and the first New Zealander to win all three world titles at youth, junior and senior level.

She also became only the second New Zealander to win a senior world track and field title after Faumuina who won the women's discus event in 1997.

New Zealand's other high-profile field athlete Yvette Williams won a gold for the long jump at the 1952 Helsinki Olympic Games.

The other finalists in the sportswoman of the year category were three other current world champions - in-line speed skater Nicole Begg, BMX cyclist Sarah Walker and motocross rider Katherine Prumm.

The other finalists in the sportsman of the year category won by Drysdale were Alinghi skipper Brad Butterworth, lightweight world rowing champion Duncan Grant, and world mountain running champion Jonathan Wyatt.

In the sports team of the year, the rowing four were selected by the voting academy ahead of Team New Zealand (yachting), the men's coxless pair (rowing) and the women's double scull (rowing).

The emerging talent winner, a category introduced for the first time last year and which carries a $25,000 scholarship from Westpac, was rower Emma Twigg, who won the world under-23 single scull title.

The other finalists were Edward Dawkins (cycling), Danny Lee (golf) and Brendon Hartley (motor sport).

Athletics completed a double with the naming of Vili's mentor, Kirsten Hellier, as coach of the year.

The other finalists in this group were Calvin Ferguson and Chris Nilsson (rowing) and New Zealand rugby sevens mentor Gordon Tietjens.

Also recognised at the awards ceremony were two former champion marathon runners, Lorraine Moller and Mike Ryan, who were inducted into New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame, by athletic great and 1976 Olympic 1500m champion John Walker.

The lifetime achievement award went to former Auckland and New Zealand batsman Merv Wallace, 91, who was an outstanding cricket coach and mentor for more than 60 years.

Former All Black flanker and outstanding academic, John Graham, for many years one of rugby's great administrators, was honoured with the leadership award.

A highlight of the awards dinner was a tribute to Sir Murray Halberg, who founded the Halberg Trust 45 years ago.

Among those who shared their special memories of Sir Murray, were two of his athletic contemporaries, Bruce Kidd of Canada and Australian John Landy.

They were joined by New Zealand athletic greats John Walker, Richard Tayler and Peter Snell (via a recorded message from his home in Dallas), former world women's squash champion and former Halberg Trust chairwoman, Dame Susan Devoy, and Athens gold medallists Sarah Ulmer and Hamish Carter, who were mentored by Sir Murray at the 1996 Olympics.

- NZPA

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