The prizes may go to Evenepoel and Kopecky, but Swings and Meesseman were at least as good athletes this year

Ladies first. 2023 was the year of Lotte Kopecky (28). Dominant from February to September. From her opening victory in the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad to the climax in Glasgow, with her first world title on the road and two world titles on the track. In between, she added an extra Tour of Flanders, two Belgian titles and a memorable Tour de France (stage victory, green jersey and second place in the final classification) to her extensive list of achievements. Sportively, 2023 brought Kopecky all the colors of the rainbow, privately her year turned pitch black due to the death of brother Seppe. Kopecky’s head is even stronger than her legs. She will be the first cyclist to become Belgian Sportswoman of the Year since the introduction of the trophy in 1975. “If I don’t win now, I’ll never win again,” she says.

Lotte Kopecky. — © Getty Images

Due to the Flemish obsession with King Bicycle, there is little room for other athletes in the spotlight besides Lotte Kopecky. However, there is still one who fits the crown of the country’s best sports queen. Emma Meesseman (30) won literally everything she could win in 2023 in a sport that carries more weight internationally than cycling. With Fenerbahçe Istanbul she won the Turkish title, the European Super Cup and the EuroLeague. In the EuroLeague, Meesseman has been undefeated for 53 matches in a row. It was November 27, 2019 (!) since she lost again in the Champions League of women’s basketball. However, her performance of the year was the European title and the first gold with the Belgian Cats at the European Championships. The 1m92 tall West Flemish player was voted most valuable player in both the EuroLeague and the European Championships. And she wrote history by achieving the first ever triple-double (double figures in points, rebounds and assists) at the European Championship for women’s basketball in the quarter-finals. She recently repeated that feat in the EuroLeague. The fact that Meesseman will miss her second title of Sportswoman of the Year on Sunday – she already won it in 2020 – will not bother her much as long as her Belgian Cats are voted Team of the Year. The Ypres always puts the collective before the individual.

Emma Meesseman. — © BELGIUM

Loena Hendrickx (24) is a good third, although Nafi Thiam also deserved it after her world record in the pentathlon. In the absence of the Russians, Hendrickx took the step to the absolute world top in figure skating after a difficult year. A missed opportunity – ‘only’ silver – at the European Championships was rectified with bronze at the World Championships. This winter, the Kempen team seems ready for the very last leap to European Championship gold (a must) and World Cup gold (an opportunity).

Loena Hendrickx. — © AP

Since the Belgian Sportsman Award was first awarded in 1967, it has gone to a cyclist no fewer than 23 times. Of the past 18 editions, 12 were won by a driver. There is therefore a good chance that Remco Evenepoel will make it for the second consecutive time on Sunday. A second victory in a row in Liège-Bastogne-Liège, a third victory in the Clasica San Sebastian, the world time trial title, the Belgian title on the road, two stages in the Giro and three stages in the Vuelta (plus the mountain jersey): there There are those who have become Sportsman of the Year with fewer credentials.

Remco Evenepoel. — © SOPA Images/LightRocket via Gett

And yet we would like to make a plea for Bart Swings, the man who ended up at the very top of our voting form. Just like last year, when Swings, as Olympic champion, only finished third in the election. A disgrace. Swings will be on the podium for the fifth time on Sunday. Only Merckx, Saive, Everts, Boonen and Nys did that before him. They all won the trophy. Swings deserves that too. Because of that magical March 4 on the ice of Thialf in Heerenveen. In the orange lion’s den, all eyes were on Swings during the mass start of the World Cup final. Americans, Chinese, Japanese, South Koreans, Italians and especially the Dutch: they all tailored their race entirely to the Olympic champion. Until he pulled out a blistering effort with 700 meters to go and rode solo to the world title. His very best match at the right time. Followed by a standing ovation in a sold-out Dutch shrine. Swings is now the reigning European, World and Olympic champion and World Cup winner. He really can’t do better. He also won bronze in the 5,000 meters and finished the inline skating World Championships in Italy with six medals, four of which were world titles. He now has 16 world titles and 16 European titles and is called the Eddy Merckx of roller skating.

Bart Swings — © AP

The top three among the men on Sunday consist of three world champions. That was back in 2005 (Boonen, Nys and Everts). All respect for Luca Brecel, who conquered a place in the Belgian sports history books in May with a fabulous first world title in snooker, but we place the affable Limburger just below Swings and Evenepoel this year. Not so much because the physical component is absent in non-Olympic snooker – Brecel cannot do anything about that. Well, because Swings and Evenepoel, unlike Brecel, performed and won for a whole year in addition to their world title.

Luca Brecel. — © AP

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