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The Laureus Awards - the Oscars of the sporting world 19 Feb 2008

Kim Cattrall and Lewis Hamilton during the Laureus World Sports Awards at the Mariinsky Concert Hall on February 18, 2008 in St.Petersburg, Russia. © Getty Images for Laureus Winner of the Laureus World Breakthrough of the Year award Lewis Hamilton during the Laureus World Sports Awards at the Mariinsky Concert Hall on February 18, 2008 in St.Petersburg, Russia. © Getty Images for Laureus Roger Federer poses with the Laureus Sportsman of the Year Award during the Laureus World Sports Awards at the Mariinsky Concert Hall on February 18, 2008 in St.Petersburg, Russia. © Getty Images for Laureus Bernie Ecclestone speaks before giving Lewis Hamilton the trophy for Laureus World Breakthrough of the Year award at the Laureus World Sports Awards at the Mariinsky Concert Hall on February 18, 2008 in St.Petersburg, Russia. © Getty Images for Laureus General view during the Laureus World Sports Awards post awards dinner at the St.Petersburg Grand Philharmonic Hall on February 18, 2008 in St.Petersburg, Russia. © Getty Images for Laureus

It is the Oscar for athletes. A silver figurine in winning pose - created by Cartier - that stands for global recognition of sporting achievement - and for the universal power of sport to bring people together as a force for good, passionately embodying its very spirit: the pursuit of excellence and triumphing against the odds.

Like its golden Hollywood counterpart, the Laureus comes in categories, and, as with the Oscars, the voting process is complex. Firstly, a selection panel of the world's leading sports editors, writers and broadcasters from over 120 countries votes to create a shortlist of six nominations in various categories, including Laureus World Sportsman of the Year, Laureus World Sportswoman of the Year, Laureus World Team of the Year and Laureus World Breakthrough of the Year.

The winners are selected by the ultimate sports jury - the 43 members of the Laureus World Sports Academy - living legends of sport, the likes of Franz Beckenbauer, Boris Becker, Emerson Fittipaldi, Sebastian Coe, Bobby Carlton, Giacomo Agostini, Michael Jordan - honouring the greatest athletes of today.

It all started in Monaco in 2000 when, under the patronage of Prince Albert, the first Laureus Awards were presented to Tiger Woods, Marion Jones, Manchester United, and Sergio Garcia as the then newcomer.

In an inspiring speech Nelson Mandela accentuated the importance of sport: “Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to unite people in a way little else does. Sport can create hope, where once there was only despair.”

Since then the Laureus has established itself as the most important award in the world of sport. Now in its ninth year, the annual prize-giving ceremony moved east for 2008, to St Petersburg in Russia. Perhaps no surprise then that the city’s most prominent son, President Vladimir Putin, was to be found mingling with the sporting heroes and guests.

St Petersburg Governor, Valentina Matvienko, spoke for him when she said: "We are delighted that St Petersburg has been chosen to host the 2008 Laureus World Sports Awards as sport is close to the hearts of millions of Petersburgers. Our well-developed infrastructure makes St Petersburg the ideal venue for sports events of global significance. I am sure this ceremony was a night to be remembered in the city."

And there was indeed a touch of Hollywood to the proceedings. Actors Cuba Gooding Jr and Dennis Hopper, and Sex and the City star Kim Cattrall made it to the ceremony to help present the awards.

And this year’s winners? Swiss Roger Federer made history by becoming the first winner of four Laureus World Sports Awards. The tennis star was named Laureus World Sportsman of the Year for the fourth straight year. Receiving his trophy from Hopper, Federer joked: “I had hoped that they might not think three is enough - and indeed, they gave me a fourth. That’s awesome!” Awesome too was the list of men he beat: Tiger Woods, Kimi Raikkonen Michael Phelbs and Kaka. And luck stayed with the tennis world as Belgium’s Justine Henin walked away with the Sportswoman of the Year award.

Formula One racing had its glory moment when an emotional Lewis Hamilton received the World Breakthrough of the Year award. "I remember last year I was in Bahrain for a test and watched the Laureus Awards on the television in my hotel room and now I am here with all these amazing people,” he said. “It has been a fantastic year and I am very grateful for this award. Actually I feel a bit overwhelmed as looking around the other nominees I didn't think I deserved it but I am really happy."

Formula One CEO Bernie Ecclestone, long since a supporter of the Laureus World Sports Awards, added: “I am very pleased to see that the World Breakthrough of the Year award going to Lewis as he stands as a role model for his generation. It also shows that the pool of talent in Formula One is on the highest possible level.”

And in a joint statement, the founding patrons of the Laureus World Sports Award, Dr Dieter Zetsche for Daimler, and Johann Rupert for Compagnie Financiere Richmont, said: “For thousands of years the laurel has been a universal symbol of victory in sport. We are proud to make that legendary symbol an official honour in recognition of the best in sport worldwide - the Laureus World Sports Awards.”