Beijing Olympics diving gold medalist Matthew Mitcham has upstaged a star-studded field to win the 2008 Sports Performer of the Year award in Melbourne tonight.
The 20-year-old was one of eight elite athletes shortlisted for the award but his heroics in claiming individual gold in the men's 10m platform event at the 2008 Games was deemed the most worthy of recognition.
Pole vaulter Steve Hooker, triathlete Emma Snowsill, swimmer Stephanie Rice and kayaker Ken Wallace were the other Australian individual gold medallists to be shortlisted, while surfer Stephanie Gilmore, ironman Craig Alexander and AFL goalkicking superstar Lance Franklin were also in contention for the top individual award.
While judges had the luxury of compiling a shortlist of candidates, readers were left with the task of judging whose sporting feats were the most worthy.
Mitcham's heroics in scoring a record-breaking result on his final dive to claim individual gold in the men's 10m platform event was enough to win the award, organised by The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald and announced at a gala function at Crown Casino.
Mitcham scored an incredible four perfect 10s, to steal the gold from favoured Chinese diver Luxin Zhou. It was a massive upset, snatching gold in front of a fiercely patriotic Chinese home crowd.
The young diver will snare $50,000 from the awards' sponsor, Colonial First State.
His story is a remarkable tale of overcoming difficulties. Matthew battled depression and retired in his teenage years after physical and emotional burn-out. But just nine months after resuming training he achieved the ultimate in his chosen sport.
He is also believed to be the first Australian to openly declare his homosexuality before competing at an Olympic Games.
In winning the Sports Performer of the Year award, voters have deemed Mitcham's achievement more worthy than Rice's three individual Olympic golds, Hooker clearing an Olympic-record height of 5.90 metres on his final attempt to claim gold, Snowsill's breakthrough win in the Olympic triathlon, Alexander's triumph in the notoriously gruelling Hawaiian Ironman, Gilmore's achievement in stunning the world surfing community by winning the world title in a rookie year, Franklin's 113 goals in an AFL premiership year and kayaker Wallace's gold and bronze medals in Beijing.
Last year's inaugural winner of the Sports Performer of the Year award was cyclist Cadel Evans, who finished second in the Tour de France.
Other award winners tonight include the women's 4x200m freestyle team at the Beijing Olympics (Team Performance of the Year), Olympic swimming great Michael Phelps (International Performer of the Year), Melissa Wu (Young Performer of the Year), Hawthorn coach Alastair Clarkson (Coach Performance of the Year) and Matt Cowdrey (Sports Performer of the Year With a Disability).
Retiring athletes Layne Beachley (surfing) and Robert Harvey (AFL) were recognised as Legendary Performers for their acheivements in their chosen sports.