Wheelchair athlete Chantal Petitclerc was at the same dinner table as cyclist Lori-Ann Muenzer the night before the latter won her gold medal in Athens last summer.
"That's when I realized we share a lot more than a love of high-pressure tires," Petitclerc said last night.
"She was so focused."
Petitclerc beat out Muenzer to become the first Paralympian to win female athlete of the year at the 32nd Canadian Sport Awards.
The Montreal native won five golds at the Paralympic games in Athens. She had refused to share a similar award with hurdler Perdita Felicien in December, feeling Athletics Canada erred in equating her medal haul with Felicien, who crashed in her big Olympic event. But relations have been patched and, before she left the stage at the Metro Convention Centre, Petitclerc expressed her gratitude to the country's athletic ideals.
"In Canada, a world-class performance is a world-class performance, whether it's on foot, on a bike, a kayak or in a wheelchair," she said.
Her disabled coach, Peter Eriksson, was named coach of the year.
The male athlete was gymnast Kyle Shewfelt, gold medallist in the floor event in Athens, earning Canada's first artistic medal in the sport.
Shewfelt, denied a bronze in the vault in a controversial judging, joked he's not yet exactly a well-known face.
After a yoga class, an elderly Calgarian saw the 22-year-old's Olympic rings' tattoo and asked its origin. Told he was a gymnast, the man asked politely 'Do you think you'll be the next Kyle Shewfelt?
"He apologized when I told him my name and said I looked bigger on TV," Shewfelt said.
Partners of the year were the Canadian men's rowing four, Barney Williams, Jake Wetzel, Cam Baerg and Tom Herschmiller, who were nosed out of a gold in Athens. Williams was ribbed for arriving at the black tie affair wearing a loud blue turquoise shirt. But he said he had been partying until 5 a.m. yesterday in London to celebrate his role in Oxford's win over rowing rival Cambridge this week and arrived in Toronto without packing.
Williams and Wetzel, who plan to race pairs at the next Olympics, hope to capitalize on this award by lobbying for more corporate funding.
"We're here to knock on doors," Wetzel said.
The junior female athlete of the year is speed skater Shannon Rempel, who fast-tracked her Olympic plans with a strong 2004 season. The raven-haired Winnipegger surprised even herself by capturing silver at a World Cup event. Suddenly, next year's Turin Olympics look a lot more promising for a medal than just a tuneup for Vancouver in 2010.
"I've always looked at 2010 - 2014 when I'd be peaking," Rempel said. "This year changed my views."
Male and female teams of the year were the wheelchair basketball squad and goalball teams, respectively, the latter comprised of visually impaired players.
"If teams were bigger, we knew we had to be stronger and faster," basketballer Richard Peter said.