The Olympic and Paralympic high-performance community came together for the UK Sport PLx awards on Tuesday evening, where the outstanding achievements and contributions of individuals, teams and sports during 2022 were recognised.
Seven PLx awards were presented at the awards ceremony in Manchester, with ParalympicsGB scooping two awards linked to their Paralympics campaign in Beijing in March.
Other award winners included British Curling’s Nigel Holl who was recognised for his work transforming British fortunes on the curling ice and Tom Daley for his LGBTQ+ campaigning. Tracy Whittaker-Smith MBE at British Gymnastics, Fieke Blackwell at British Canoeing and Commonwealth Games England rounded out the 2022 winners.
The 2022 edition of the PLx awards were hosted by UK Sport Chair Dame Katherine Grainger and Emma Wiggs MBE, the Paracanoe Paralympic Champion, who reflected on another bumper year for British sport. The awards and winners are:
Biggest turnaround or breakthrough in high-performance sport
Nigel Holl – British Curling
After British Curling returned from the Winter Olympics and Paralympics in PyeongChang in 2018 empty handed, the sport immediately identified a need to think with a fresh perspective. Nigel’s appointment as British Curling’s first Executive Performance Director in 2019 was the catalyst for the sport to go on and make history with both the Scottish women’s and men’s teams winning the European Championships in the same season for the first-time ever. The turnaround was complete when, after the men’s Olympic silver, the women secured an epic victory in the Olympic final as Team GB claimed its first curling gold medal in 20 years.
Nigel said: “Everyone is shooting for us now. They’re trying to know what’s the special magic at the National Curling Academy. It’s the people that are the special and unique bit. However hard they try to copy us, unless they’re copying the people, they won’t crack it. It isn’t an award for Nigel, this is an award for British Curling. I couldn’t have done this on my own.
"It’s a big, wide team effort and that’s why I feel a little bit uncomfortable that it’s an award in my name. It needs to be for the team.”
Coach who has made a special impact
Tracy Whittaker-Smith MBE – British Gymnastics
Tracy, now Performance Director (Olympic Disciplines) at British Gymnastics, coached double Olympic trampolining medallist Bryony Page to the most incredible success over the past 12 months. Bryony became World Champion in November 2021 and European Champion in June 2022 and added a world silver medal to her collection last month. Along with this incredible success, Tracy’s ability to drive performance and create a highly compassionate environment for all involved, highlights the staggering impact she has made on the sport.
Tracy said: “I love coaching because I help people and that’s fundamentally at the heart of everything I do. I never dreamt of or needed awards, I just love what I do, but to be recognised by UK Sport and my fellow peers is really special.
“It’s great that I’m recognised but I definitely wouldn’t have been able to do it without the athletes I coach, all the coaches I work with, and everyone who’s helped me.”
Support staff or practitioner who has made a special impact
Fieke Blackwell – British Canoeing
British Canoeing have accumulated 32 major international medals in the last 12 months and Fieke has been recognised for creating a brilliant training and competition environment for these athletes to flourish. As Canoe Slalom Team Manager, Fieke’s contribution to the team’s success was best illustrated at the World Championships in July where she contained an outbreak of Covid-19 through creative planning and excellent communication and despite the challenges, the British team came home with a gold, two silver and two bronze medals.
Fieke said: “The Covid-19 outbreak at the World Championships was all one big puzzle to consider but I am proud of the way we managed it and that our medal potential wasn’t affected too much. It’s very nice to be recognised. I feel like I get a lot of recognition from people at British Canoeing for what I do but for a few more people to know about it, it’s really cool. It’s nice not to go unnoticed!”
ParalympicsGB appointed a new Mental Health and Wellbeing Lead with responsibility for developing a mental health strategy for the team ahead of the Paralympic Games in Tokyo and then Beijing. Dr Amanda Gatherer was appointed to the role and led the delivery of generic and specific training, understanding the mental health burden of the travelling group pre-, provision of mental health services during and provision of follow-up, decompression and signposting support post-Games. Since the role was first deployed in Tokyo the IOC and IPC have introduced specific accreditations for support staff tasked with supporting mental health, a great example of ParalympicsGB being ahead of the curve.
Dr Amanda Gatherer, Clinical Psychologist and Mental Health Lead, said: “It’s a tough environment [a Paralympic Games] for athletes to feel that they can perform their best in, so having that mental health clinical psychology input, I feel sports and athletes were able to benefit. Mental health across elite sport has much more of a foothold now, it’s not perfect but I hope we’ve been able to develop a lot of learnings as to what that should look like.”
Collaboration and team working
Commonwealth Games England
Commonwealth Games England were at the heart of an unprecedented level of collaboration as part of their Birmingham 2022 campaign. It leveraged the unique knowledge, skills and experience of many people and organisations to deliver success in an efficient, effective, inclusive and diverse way. The objective was to create the best possible environment for its team of 426 athletes – the largest and most diverse team ever to represent England in a sporting context. Built on this collaboration, Team England delivered its most successful Commonwealth Games securing 176 medals in Birmingham.
Frankie Kelly, Deputy Chef de Mission, said: “There was a real energy around the team and across the different sites, from immersion camp right through to the villages and the city centre. I think the recognition of winning an award that’s about collaboration is something we can all be really proud of. The games were a huge success, it was our most successful Team England ever in terms of the medal count, but more than that I think our team culture was fantastic.”
Sustainability and Social Impact
Tom Daley – British Swimming – Diving
Tom Daley has been selected for the PLx Sustainability and Social Impact award for his bravery to utilise his platform for positive change both in the Commonwealth, and in wider society. This included the introduction of the Commonwealth Games LGBTQ+ manifesto, his participation in the Opening Ceremony amplifying other athletes and advocates from across the Commonwealth via a BBC documentary. Tom’s advocacy for change demonstrated a profound example to other major sporting events in how to ensure it’s athletes, support staff and spectators feel seen and heard.
Tom said: “It was an incredibly emotional moment. But it wasn’t about me, it was about every single LGBTQ+ person around the Commonwealth and the world. Even if it made the smallest difference to someone out there, it was worth it. Because someone might have seen it and felt a little less alone in the world.”
Spirit of high-performance sport
Phil Smith – ParalympicsGB
Phil Smith was a first time Chef de Mission at the Beijing 2022 Winter Paralympic Games. In what were quite extraordinary circumstances, Phil lead the ParalympicsGB team with professionalism, passion and purpose. The Games environment was subject to rigid Covid-19 countermeasures, including daily testing for the whole team and no spectators. Phil led the ParalympicsGB team from the front, setting a clear vision of doing everything possible to create positive and consistent team environments across three villages that underpinned the overall Games and team experience for all ParalympicsGB team members.
Phil said: “My journey working at the British Paralympic Association, going to the Paralympic Games with ParalympicsGB has been an extraordinary one. I’m sat here but there are so many people behind this, and the recognition should be for all of them as much as me.”
Dame Katherine Grainger, Chair at UK Sport, said: “My personal congratulations go to each individual, team and sport who were nominated for or won a PLx award. These awards are a brilliant showcase of the power of sport to create extraordinary moments and drive positive change in so many ways. As the year draws to a close, I look forward to what’s ahead and I’m sure 2023 will be filled with more inspiring performances both on and off the field of play.”