SYDNEY, October 27: It was the start one magnificent career and the end of another at the Telstra Swimmer of the Year Awards in Sydney tonight with Beijing golden girl Stephanie Rice became the sixth female winner of the coveted Telstra Swimmer of the Year Award at a glittering function at Darling Harbour and the end of another with the surprise retirement of the world's greatest distance swimmer Grant Hackett.
Rice, 20, joins Hayley Lewis, Susie O'Neill, Jodie Henry, Leisel Jones and Libby Trickett on a prestigious list of "who's who" to have won the coveted award, presented in front of over 500 people at the Sydney Convention Centre.
But moments after Rice had received the 19th Australian Swimmer of the Year Award, the man who has led the Telstra Dolphins since the 2005 FINA World Championships and the winner of two Olympic gold medals in 2000 and 2004 told the packed Convention Centre board room that Beijing's 1500m freestyle had been his last.
"I've made the decision to retire from the sport I started as a five-year-old….it's been a wonderful ride but the time is right to move on to the next stage of my life," said Hackett, who received a standing ovation.
"I want to thank my family, friends, my coaches and everyone who has helped me achieve my goals, especially the Australian team. It has been a privilege to lead you for the last four years and something I will cherish forever."
It added another major dimension to swimming's "night of nights" as the swimming community came together to honor the performances of a team which thrilled the Australian public through 2008.
Rice's win tips the Swimmer of the Year Award scales in favor of the girls since the award's inception in 1991 with five men, Glen Housman, Kieren Perkins, Michael Klim, Ian Thorpe and Hackett carving their names on the trophy.
Rice, the dual world record holder in both the 200 and 400m individual medleys edged out 2006 winner Jones and 2007 winner Trickett to take the top gong.
"It's been quite an amazing year for me….the Trials were just a whirlwind…then the Olympics and everything that went with it….to win those two individual gold medals and then share that incredible moment with the girls in the relay was beyond my wildest dreams," said Rice.
"I would just think to take this opportunity to thank my coach Michael Bohl, my family and friends, my sponsors and supporters, you have all been wonderful, I could not have done it with out you and it is such an honour to be named the Telstra Swimmer of the Year."
Bohl, head coach at Brisbane's St Peter's Western, was named the Telstra Coach of the Year.
Rice and team mates Bronte Barratt, Kylie Palmer and Linda MacKenzie also received the Swimming Australia "Golden Moment of the Year" for their amazing world record breaking gold medal in the women's 4x200m freestyle relay in Beijing.
Among the other major award winners on Swimming's night of nights were:
– Swimming team captain Grant Hackett who won the much sought after Swimmers Swimmer of the Year – voted on by members of the Telstra Dolphins Australian team.
– Libby Trickett, who was named the Telstra People's Choice Award winner, narrowly over Rice, after over 14,000 votes were received from the Australian public.
– Paralympian of the Year Matthew Cowdrey who won the Telstra Swimmer of the Year with a Disability for the third year running and also the Australian Unity Club Leadership Award for his work with the Norwood Club in South Australia.
– Cate Campbell, who was awarded the Australian Sports Commission Discovery of the Year – the award Rice won back in 2006.
– Felicity Galvez, who won the Speedo Short Course Swimmer of the Year for her gold medal, world record breaking efforts at this year's FINA World Short Course Championships in Manchester while:
– Matt Welsh, Linda MacKenzie, Brooke Hanson, Justin Norris, Adam Lucas and Michelle Engelsman all received Speedo's Service to the Australian Swimming Team Awards.
2008 Telstra Swimmer of the Year Awards
Speedo Services to the Australian Swimming Team
Roger Smith Technical Official of the Year
Australian Sports Commission Discovery Swimmer of the Year
Telstra Swimmer with a Disability Coach of the Year
Age Group Coach of the Year
Open Water Coach of the Year
Telstra Coach of the Year
Telstra International All Star Team
Australian Unity Club of the Year
Monash University Swim Club
Australian Unity Club Leadership Award
Swimming Australia Golden Moment of the Year
Women's 4 x 200m Freestyle Relay – Beijing
Speedo Short Course Swimmer of the Year
Open Water Swimmer of the Year
Telstra Swimmer of the Year with a Disability
Telstra People's Choice Award
Telstra Swimmers' Swimmer of the Year
Telstra Swimmer of the Year
PREVIOUS TELSTRA SWIMMER OF THE YEAR WINNERS
1990 Glen Housman QLD
1991 Hayley Lewis QLD
1992 Kieren Perkins QLD
1993 Kieren Perkins QLD
1994 Kieren Perkins QLD
1995 Susan O'Neill QLD
1996 Susan O'Neill QLD
1997 Michael Klim VIC
1998 Michael Klim VIC
1999 Ian Thorpe NSW
2000 Ian Thorpe NSW
2001 Ian Thorpe NSW
2002 Ian Thorpe NSW
2003 Ian Thorpe/Grant Hackett NSW/QLD
2004 Jodie Henry QLD
2005 Grant Hackett QLD
2006 Leisel Jones QLD
2007 Libby Lenton QLD
2008 Stephanie Rice QLD
Special thanks to Swimming Australia for contributing this report.