Britain’s elite athletes have nominated 12 of their peers to form the 2023 Athletes’ Athlete of the Year shortlist.
All athletes currently or previously funded to train via the World Class Programme were able to nominate an elite athlete for the award, and are now voting for their male and female winner.
It’s been a year to be proud of for elite British sport, with athletes excelling in and out of competition, breaking new records, overcoming personal adversity, and using their positions to better the sporting world. Nominations were made not just for competitive success, but also for those athletes who supported or inspired others in elite sport throughout the year.
The men’s shortlist comprises: Joe Clarke (canoeing), Chris Hunt Skelley (para-judo), Shah Rashid (wheelchair fencing), Matt Richards (swimming), Bradly Sinden (taekwondo) and Gregg Stevenson (para-rowing).
The women’s is: Fran Brown (para-cycling), Emma Finucane (cycling), Jessica Gadirova (gymnastics), Beth Potter (triathlon), Lucy Renshall (judo) and Maisie Summers-Newton (para-swimming). Find out more about each below.
After winning gold at Rio 2016, slalom canoeist Joe Clarke narrowly missed out on qualification for the Tokyo Olympics. This year however he was confirmed part of the Team GB squad with a phenomenal year of competition behind him: he became double world champion (in K1 and Kayak Cross), won five World Cup medals, European Games bronze and the World Cup title for Kayak Cross.
In addition Joe became a father at the start of the year, balancing his most successful year to date with being a new parent. His nominee said: “Joe is a true inspiration to the sport. I cannot wait to see what 2024 holds.”
Chris Hunt Skelley
Paralympic champion Chris Hunt Skelley is a dominant judoka who enjoyed a strong year on the mat, taking silver in the European Para Championships and making the podium at two Grands Prix.
But he has been nominated for an altogether different set of strengths. In addition to winning the Spirit of High-Performance Award at UK Sport’s PLx awards, Chris has extended his initial one-year mentorship programme with the True Athlete Project to three years.
His nominator said: “[Chris is] a fierce competitor, and also warm, kind, open to exploring new things, and always thinking about how they can have the best impact on those around them.”
Wheelchair fencer Shah Rashid earned his first World Cup medal in 2023, roughly 18 months after joining the World Class Programme. However his nomination comes largely for events out of competition, with his nominator saying: “Most importantly for me, as a teammate and a friend he has helped me through what’s been one of the toughest years of my life. He’s been there for me throughout… He regularly called me to check up and always made the effort to be there for me.”
Swimmer Matt Richards’ competitive achievements in 2023 make for quite the read. In July alone, he notched three British records in two days, became world 200m freestyle champion, scooped gold in the men’s 4x200m freestyle relay and broke the European record to claim bronze in the mixed 4×100 freestyle relay. He sustained his form towards the end of the year, securing another British record, personal best, gold in the 4x50m freestyle relay, gold in the 200m freestyle and silver in the 4x50m relay medley aged just 20.
He was named British Swimming’s Athlete of the Year, and his nominator said: “He deserves this award for his dedication, grit and determination.”
Bradly Sinden became taekwondo world champion for the second time in his career by winning the featherweight (−68kg) title in May. It makes him the first British male to win two world titles in taekwondo and restored his crown after defeat in 2022.
He also won silver at the European Games after withdrawing from the final through injury, and gold in the Bulgarian Open in his first fight at -74kg.
Gregg Stevenson only joined the GB Para-Rowing Team in 2023 but won the PR2 Mixed Double Sculls with Lauren Rowles at the 2023 European Rowing Championships in his first international regatta.
The pair then became world champions only a year after partnering, with Lauren tempting Gregg back to the sport having initially left it behind in 2016. When he returned he balanced training and competition with existing work commitments, studying for a master’s degree, and having two young children.
His nominator said: “His personality and attitude towards training are infectious and I think he has been a breath of fresh air.”
Not content with being double para-climbing world champion (2012 and 2014) and para-triathlon world champion (2019), Fran Brown dominated the UCI Para Cycling World Championships in just her second full year as a cyclist.
As the event’s most decorated athlete she won five golds and one silver – and set an individual pursuit world record – despite competing with broken ribs. Her nominator said: “I don’t think there is any athlete in the country who has won so consistently as Fran throughout 2023.”
Emma Finucane enjoyed what her nominator called an “exceptional breakthrough year”, which started with her claiming all four women’s sprint titles at the National Track Championships before she won her first individual world cup in the sprint.
Her year hit its highest point at the UCI Cycling World Championships. Emma first helped to set a new world record and take silver in the team sprint before becoming the youngest British female sprint world champion, her first world title.
Jessica Gadirova was commended by her nominator for performing under “immense pressure and expectation”, claiming team, all-around, and floor gold at the European Championships to be named the tournament’s master gymnast.
She suffered an anterior cruciate ligament tear at the World Championships in October, from which she is still recovering.
Having competed in the 2016 Olympics 10,000 metres Beth Potter transitioned to triathlon in 2017. This year, after becoming world champion in sensational style six years after switching, she was named as Team GB’s first female triathlete destined for Paris.
She told Team GB of her move into triathlon: “I hadn’t been swimming for eight or nine years when I started triathlon. And I didn’t even have a bike.” Some progress since.
Judoka Lucy Renshall entered the year as world number one and defended her spot for large chunks of 2023. She won Grand Prix gold in August, and Grand Slam gold and bronze earlier in the year.
But more importantly, says the athlete who nominated her, “is how supportive she is of all her team mates. She talks me up every competition and has been my rock for the past year! She is the person you’d want on any team to lift the spirit and morale of the group. She’s a star.”
Maisie Summers-Newton defended her SM6 200m Individual Medley and SB6 100m Breaststroke world titles at the Para Swimming World Championships in summer, collecting British Swimming’s Para-Swimming Athlete of the Year and the Maurice Watkins Champion Athlete award.
Her world titles came in the 200m medley and 100m breaststroke, in which she set a new European record, and she also claimed silver in the 400m freestyle. In addition to training and competition, Maisie is also studying full-time to become a teacher. She was described as a “great role model and friend in the pool.”
What happens next?
All current and former World Class Programme athletes are now voting for a male and female winner.
Current athletes are voting over email, while former athletes can get involved via the BEAA Alumni app.
The winners will receive personalised trophies on behalf of the BEAA and our members past and present, with confirmation in the new year.