Night of Champions celebrates retired stars

Published Thu 23 Mar 2023

Twenty-one athletes have been recognised as recipients of the Snow Australia Medal at the Night of Champions held at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney on Wednesday evening.

The Snow Australia Medal was launched in June 2020 to recognise the achievements and careers of those past and retiring athletes who represented Australia at the highest level of snowsport competition. 

It is presented to athletes across all snow disciplines who have finished in the top three at a FIS World Cup or World Championship level, and/or represented Australia at the Olympic or Paralympic Winter Games.

The first skiers to debut for Australia at the Olympic Games were in Oslo 1952, one of whom was Bob Arnott. Following his career, he represented Australia as a member of the FIS Sub-Committee for Classifications of Alpine Competitors for 27 years and was instrumental in the adoption of the rules for the calculation of the FIS points. While Bob passed away in 2016, the medal was accepted by his wife of more than 50 years, Simone.

Australia’s first Winter Olympic gold medallist on snow, Alisa Camplin, was one of ten freestyle skiing recipients on the night. While Camplin remains heavily involved in winter sports and was Deputy Chef de Mission for the 2022 Beijing Olympic team, she was still taken back by the significance of recognising so many athletes who have set the tone for the successful era now being experienced.

“It’s quite overwhelming actually, because you realise how much you’ve learned from those who came before you and how people have kept chipping in over the years to help the next generation,” she said. “I’ve benefitted so much from that, and that’s partly what inspired me to keep doing it for the current generation as well.”

While 62 Snow Australia Medals have been distributed in the last three years at a number of events, Camplin recognised the inaugural Night of Champions as a unique opportunity to ensure those who have set the tone for today’s success are never forgotten.

“It’s incredibly important,” she said, “because the effort is what we’ve all come to experience and share and have in common as a community.

“It’s not just about the biggest and the brightest medals. It’s been a family journey, and to be able to recognise every single member who’s been a part of that journey is really important not just for us as athletes, as a collective, but for the next generation as well.

“It’s a pretty special family. We’ve written history together, we’ve gone on that journey together.

“It’s a privilege to be an athlete - I’m sure every Australian athlete would say that - but it’s a genuine privilege to be a winter sport athlete.”

Two-time Olympic ski cross competitor Scott Kneller said the Night of Champions was a fantastic opportunity to ensure some who may have drifted away from the sport could reconnect and remain a part of the community.

“I always think about the transition from sport to life after sport and how difficult that is, and a lot of it comes down to that disconnect of losing that sense of identity of being an athlete,” he said. “So I think nights like tonight are really important to bring that community back together and recognise the fact you belong to such an important community and reconnect with those people.

“There’s a couple of guys I haven’t seen since the Sochi Olympics or even the 2010 Olympics, and to catch up with them and talk about experiences we shared 12, 13 years ago is quite incredible.”

Freestyle skier Nick Cleaver, who earned his first Olympic appearance aged just 16, echoed Kneller’s sentiments.

​​”Seeing everyone brings back a lot of memories,” said Cleaver. “There’s so many memories when you’re in those formative years. I was young growing up with all these people - 15, 16, 17 - they were sort of my family back then.

“To not see them for a long time, I guess you push that stuff to the back of your mind. Coming back tonight and seeing them all again, it’s special, it’s really good.

“Because I’ve taken a step back from the sport I suppose I haven’t really reflected a lot. That’s where a night like this is really good to come back and have a good think about it.”

Maria Despas was Australia’s first-ever World Championships medallist in moguls, a pioneer in a sport in which the nation goes from strength to strength. As she watches Olympic and World Championships medals and Crystal Globes continue to be accumulated, she looks fondly on her time in the sport and the foundation laid during her career for the athletes which have followed.

“I’m really proud - in 2001 I got the first silver medal at World Championships which was amazing,” said Despas. “I worked really hard; we never really had a great deal of funding before that and when we did get some funding, rose to the top and I got the medal. 

“To hear about all the pathways, how the sport has evolved over the years since we were involved in the ’90s and 2000. With the funding and the results, it’s incredible everyone has come so far.

“Every time I look at Facebook or Instagram, it’s Australian moguls skiing and aerials skiing that has gone right to the top - they’re gold medallists, it’s incredible.

“It was actually amazing seeing all the old faces here, from the Chef de Mission to Alisa Caplin, to Nick Cleaver - and look at the view: Harbour Bridge, the Opera House - you can’t complain, it was incredible, great night.”

2023 Night of Champions - Snow Australia Medal recipients
Bob Arnott (Alpine); accepted by Simone Arnott
Craig Branch (Alpine)
Alisa Camplin (Freestyle Skiing)
Nick Cleaver (Freestyle Skiing)
Jacqui Cowderoy (Alpine)
Holly Crawford (Snowboard)
Maria ‘Maz’ Despas (Freestyle Skiing)
Nick Fisher (Freestyle Skiing)
Kylie Gill (Freestyle Skiing)
Damon Hayler (Snowboard)
Madii Himbury (Freestyle Skiing)
Barbara Jezersek (Cross Country)
Nate Johnstone (Snowboard)
Scott Kneller (Ski Cross)
Marcus Lovett (Freestyle Skiing), accepted by Walt Hiltner
Ben Mates (Snowboard)
Matthew Nicholls (Para Alpine)
Mark Pigott (Freestyle Skiing)
Michael Robertson (Freestyle Skiing)
Zeke Steggall (Snowboard)
Jono Sweet (Freestyle Skiing)