Norwegian chess world champion, 23-year-old Magnus Carlsen, silenced critics of the game’s status as a sport when he dominated the country’s annual Sports Gala (Idrettsgallaen). While he controversially wasn’t eligible for athlete of the year, Carlsen took out the award in every category where he was nominated.
Carlsen took home the trophies for the Name of the Year (Årets navn) and the Open Class (Åpen klasse) reported Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK), while he shared the top sporting personalities’ peer-nominated “utøvernes pris” with golfing star Suzann Pettersen.
The national athletics federation (Norges Idrettsforbund) sparked outrage last month when it refused to nominate Carlsen for the male athlete of the year category. Carlsen couldn’t be named top athlete, the federation argued, because Norway’s chess league (Norges Sjakkforbund) and the players it represents aren’t part of the athletics association.
Norway’s prime minister even entered the debate, when she congratulated the chess prodigy on sweeping the prize pool. “Although it’s debatable whether chess is a sport or not, I believe Magnus’ performance at the Chess World Championship is at least on a par with other sporting performances,” Erna Solberg told NRK.
None of the controversy seemed to matter on Norwegian sport’s night of nights when Carlsen stepped up to receive the Name of the Year, his third prize of the evening. “There are some who’ve complained that I haven’t prepared a speech,” Carlsen joked with the crowd. “No, I haven’t prepared a third speech. That’s what I can say. Now I’ve already thanked those who should be thanked.”
In his earlier speeches, Carlsen paid tribute to his family, the jury, and co-winner Pettersen. He promised to work more and more to become an even better player. “I will continue to be one step ahead of all the others,” he told the crowd. “I don’t want to be a world champion who doesn’t care so much about tournaments, but just sits and clutches onto the title.”
Carlsen and Pettersen revealed they’d voted for each other when they shared the coveted athlete-nominated prize. “This prize carries more weight than many of the trophies I have at home,” said Pettersen. “It’s fantastic to stand here together with the chess king himself. I have deep respect for what Magnus has delivered this year, and I myself sat and watched when he played (at the world championship) in India.”
“Thank you,” Carlsen replied. “We are both players of very individual sports, it’s fun to share this award.” Pettersen was also named Female Athlete of the Year. It caps off a stellar year for the golf star, who has won a major tournament, three LPGA tournaments and reached second place in the world rankings. Pettersen thanked her parents, the golf federation and the Norwegian people, saying she hoped more people take up the sport.
The prize for Male Athlete of the Year went to biathlon champion Emil Hegle Svendsen, who won four gold and one bronze medal at the world cup in Nove Mesto last year. Team of the Year went to the women’s football team, and ice hockey player Mats Zuccarello Aasen won Team Player of the Year. His proud mother accepted the award, as Aasen is in America playing NHL ice hockey for the New York Rangers. The Golden Ball went to goalkeeper Ingrid Hjelmseth, who plays for the national women’s team and Stabæk.
Johannes Thingnes Bø won Breakthrough Athlete of the Year in biathlon, while in the same discipline Egil Gjelland (skiskyting) won Coach of the Year. Disabled Female Athlete of the Year went to Sarah Louise Rung, and table tennis player Tommy Urhaug was the Disabled Male Athlete of the Year. The Enthusiast of the Year award was won by the volunteer team at Knyken ski centre, and Ridderrennet, the annual sports week for people with disabilities held in Beitostølen, won an Honours Award.