Cindy Klassen selected as the 2003 Manitoba female Athletes of the Year.

Speed skating star CINDY KLASSEN and ROB GIESBRECHT, who excelled in both softball and hockey, have been selected as the 2003 Manitoba female and male Athletes of the Year.

The Manitoba Sportswriters and Sportscasters Assocation also announced at its 48th annual awards dinner (Sunday) the selection of the MANITOBA BISONS, Canadian Interuniversity Sport men's volleyball champions, as the 2003 Manitoba Team of the Year, and recipients of the Maurice Smith Memorial

Klassen was named Manitoba's top female athlete for the second straight year, recognizing her 2003 feat as the first Canadian since Sylvia Burka 27 years ago to win the overall title at the World Speed Skating Championships. She also was the women's 1,500-metre World Cup champion, silver medallist in the World Sprint Championships, and the bronze medallist at 1,000 metres in the World Single Distance Championship.

Giesbrecht was the Ile des Chenes North Stars goaltender in their Allan Cup victory as Canadian Senior AAA hockey champions, and was one of the leading hitters for Team Canada in winning a seventh consecutive gold medal in softball at the Pan American Games. He doubled and scored the winning run in Canada's 4-2 win over the United States in the gold medal final.

Guided by their outstanding coach Garth Pischke and the superb performance of tournament MVP Mike Munday, the Manitoba Bisons rolled to their third national title in four years, beating Alberta 3-0 (25-18, 25-21, 25-21) in the final, played on the Golden Bears' home court in Edmonton.

Klassen won the female honour on 47 ballots of the Manitoba sports media by a decisive margin, but voting in the two other categories was exceptionally close. Giesbrecht won the male award by two points, 154 to 152, over Vezina trophy finalist Ed Belfour of hockey's Toronto Maple Leafs. The Manitoba Bisons also had only a two-point edge, 189 to 187, over Ile des Chenes' Allan Cup champions for the team award.

Balloting is tabulated on a preferential five points down to one point in voting on the five finalists in each category.

Klassen is the fourth back-to-back winner in the women's division. Sylvia Burka won the award six times, including three in a row in 1975-76-77. Monica Goermann of gymnastics fame won in 1978-79, and disabled swimmer Joanne Mucz doubled in 1986-87.

Giesbrecht succeeds Manitoba Bison football star Israel Idonije, who won the men's distinction in 2002, while the Bison men's volleyball team follows David Hamblin's world junior curling champions as the province's Maurice Smith trophy winner.

The runner-up for the female award was Clara Hughes, who was second overall in the World Cup 3,000-5,000-metre speed skating division, and wongold, silver and bronze medals in cycling at the Pan American Games.

Other finalists were Jennifer Botterill, who capped her hockey career at Harvard University by winning the Patty Kazmaier award as NCAA female player of the year; Shannon Rempel, who won the world junior speed skating title, and Heather Newsham, the leading hitter and pitcher in the national tournament for Smitty's, the Canadian senior women's fastpitch champions.

In addition to Belfour, who set a Toronto team record for wins by a goaltender with 37 in 2002-03, the male finalists were Manitoba's amateur golfer of the year Garth Collings, who won the Canadian Mid-amateur and Canadian Club Champions title last season; horse racing's Sovereign Award-winning jockey Todd Kabel, the first Canadian rider with mounts exceeding $10 million in earnings, and Minnesota third baseman Corey Koskie, whose .292 batting average and .917 fielding percentage boosted the Twins to the American League Central division title.

The four finalists in the team category were Ile des Chenes; Smitty's, who won the Canadian women's fastpitch title for a third straight year; Winnipeg Thunder, the Canadian Wheelchair basketball champions for a third year in a row, and the University of Winnipeg Wesmen, the runner-up to Victoria for the women's CIS basketball championship.

The Western Canada Summer Games were deemed to have the largest impact on the Manitoba sports scene in 2003, earning the Cactus Jack Wells Memorial Award.

Resby Coutts, the media relations-event co-ordinator of the Manitoba Curling Association, received the Dallis Beck Memorial Good Guy award for exceptional service to the sports media.

Winnipeg Free Press sports columnist Scott Taylor was inducted into the MSSA Media Roll of Honour.

The MSSA Jack Matheson Awards, created to provide financial support to sports media aspirants, were presented to Chris Kitching and Julie Horbal for 2003. Kitching is a Red River College journalism major in creative communications, while Horbal is in a four-year joint degree course in creative communications at Red River College and the University of Winnipeg.

F.M.I. -- Bob Picken,
MSSA Secretary.
Phone - (204) 489-8642
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