L'Annee Hippique publisher Eric Bruger presents Eric Lamaze with the 2011 'Rider of the Year' Award at CSI5*-W Geneva, Switzerland. © Kit Houghton
"It is an honour to receive this award, which is extremely important to me because it is voted on by the riders," said Lamaze, who was visibly moved during the presentation.
"After Mr Bruger presented the award, Steve said some nice words to the crowd. He is a good friend of mine and he always loved Hickstead [who died last month at a competition in Geneva]. He talked about the horse and told the crowd not to be sad, that Hickstead would have wanted to hear them clapping and cheering. The crowd stood up and gave a standing ovation. It was very special."
The following day the CBC Sports Athlete of the Year was announced by commentator Scott Russell during the Sunday afternoon sports program. An on-line poll conducted on the CBC Sports website allowed the public to cast their vote for 12 Canadian athlete nominees. About 20,000 people had their day, and Olympic champions Lamaze and Hickstead received the overwhelming majority of the vote, earning 56.9 percent. World figure skating champion Patrick Chan finished second in the poll with 11.6 percent of the vote.
"Together they were the best in the world and, for many Canadians, restored a sense of wonder to sport in 2011," said Russell of the results. "We are proud to name Eric and Hickstead as the Athlete of the Year."
Russell interviewed Lamaze by telephone from Geneva, marking the first interview that Lamaze has given since Hickstead's tragic death, resulting from a ruptured aorta, on November 6.
"Equestrian is not mainstream like baseball or hockey or basketball, so it is an honour for our sport to have a show jumping athlete win," said Lamaze.
Eric Lamaze and Hickstead at Spruce Meadows in Calgary, Canada. © Kit Houghton
Geneva was the final event of the year on Lamaze's competition schedule. He closed out the 2011 season as the number one show jumping rider in the world in the Rolex Rider Rankings. In his last major victory riding Hickstead, the pair won the $1 million CN International on September 11 at the Spruce Meadows "Masters" Tournament for the second time, bringing Lamaze's career earnings at the Calgary venue to more than $3.3 million and placing him firmly atop the Spruce Meadows all-time money won list.
Lamaze will now relocate from his base in Brussels, Belgium, to Wellington, Florida. He will spend the first three months of 2012 competing at the 12-week Winter Equestrian Festival, which opens on January 11.