The Slovenia Times

Garnbret, Pogačar and footballers best athletes of 2023

Footballer Jaka Bijol, sport climber Janja Garnbret and national football team head coach Matjaž Kek accept the Athlete of the Year awards. Photo: Anže Malovrh/STA

The Slovenian Sports Journalists' Association has picked sport climber Janja Garnbret, cyclist Tadej Pogačar and the men's national football team as Athletes of the Year for 2023.

Garnbret, who bagged the gold medals in the boulder and combined events and the silver medal in the lead event at this year's World Championship, won the Woman Athlete of the Year award by a landslide.

The 24-year-old scored 336 points among the 121 sports journalists who elect the winners, significantly ahead of the second-placed pole vaulter Tina Šutej, the silver medallist from this year's European Indoor Championships, who got 107 points.

This year, Garnbret won her eighth world championship gold medal and qualified for the Olympic Games in Paris, where she will defend her title, the award panel noted.

Sport climber Janja Garnbret accepts the Athlete of the Year award. Photo: Anže Malovrh/STA

Accepting the award at a ceremony at the Cankarjev Dom arts centre in Ljubljana on 19 December, Garnbret said she had "written a letter to Santa for one specific colour of medal for next year, hopefully he'll bring it to me".

Pogačar, a UAE Team Emirates rider who was second in this year's Tour de France and third in the road race at the 2023 UCI Road World Championships, received 267 points, followed by another star cyclist, Primož Roglič (166).

The 25-year-old again proved that he is the most versatile cyclist in the world, excelling both in monument and multi-stage races. He also donned the white Tour de France jersey of the best young rider for the fourth time in a row, the journalists said, noting that he continues to top the UCI World Ranking.

Pogačar addressed the ceremony by video link, repeating that he will be going for a double victory at the Giro d'Italia and the Tour de France next year, while he also has high hopes for the national team at the UCI Road World Championships.

Cyclist Tadej Pogačar declared the male Athlete of the Year at a ceremony in Cankarjev Dom. Photo: Anže Malovrh/STA

In team sports, the first- and the second-ranked teams were only three votes apart. The men's football team (44), which this year qualified for its first Euro since 2000, pulled ahead of the men's volleyball team in the end.

Having matured under the guidance of the cool-headed and shrewd head coach Matjaž Kek, the footballers showed best defence and offence in Group H of the UEFA Euro 2024 qualifiers, the award panel said.

"This award is yet another confirmation that it's worth persevering, that they persevered and believed in themselves and that they never doubted for a single moment that we'll make it to the Euro," said Kek, who accepted the award together with the injured team member Jaka Bijol.

"The group (at the Euro) is almost the toughest possible, I mean, we are written-off as outsiders anyway, but the boys may well cook something up there," Kek added. Slovenia will face off England, Denmark and Serbia in Group C of the UEFA Euro 2024 in Germany in June.

Footballer Jaka Bijol and national football team head coach Matjaž Kek accept the Athlete of the Year award in team sports. Photo: Anže Malovrh/STA

The award for best up-and-coming athlete went to footballer Benjamin Šeško, a forward who currently plays for the Bundesliga club RB Leipzig. It has been rumoured that Arsenal would like to sign the young star.

At the age of 18 and one day, he became the youngest ever debutant in the national team in 2021 and later the team's youngest ever scorer. Having netted five goals, Šeško was Slovenia's top scorer in the Euro 2024 qualifiers.

The fair play award went to ski jumper Anže Lanišek, and members of the national women's sitting volleyball team were declared the best athletes with disabilities.

Last year, the main accolades went to ski jumper Urša Bogataj, discus thrower Kristjan Čeh and the mixed ski-jumping team.


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