Victorian Institute of Sport scholarship holders were prominent in the Combat Australia awards presented this week.
Combat stars Leon Sejranovic, Katherina Haecker and Caitlin Parker, who won three awards, were all recognised on the night.
Sejranovic received the Taekwondo Athlete of the Year and Breakthrough Performance Awards after winning bronze at the World Championships in Azerbaijan in June. It was Australia’s first Taekwondo medal in over a decade and the first won by an Australian male in almost a quarter of a century.
The awards added to Sejranovic’s recent string of accolades which include the 2XU Rising Star Award at the VIS Award of Excellence, Australian Taekwondo Athlete of the year, the Lauren Burns Medal and Athlete of the Year at Victoria University. Recently, Sejranovic also had the honour of accepting the inaugural Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Community Award on behalf of Australian Taekwondo at the World Taekwondo 2023 Gala Awards in Manchester.
Haecker was recognised as the Judo Athlete of the Year, capping off an impressive 12 months that peaked with a bronze medal at the 2023 Judo Grand Slam.
Parker’s remarkable haul of three awards was a highlight of the evening.
Parker received The Spirit Athlete Award, Boxing Athlete of the Year and the Athlete of the Year Awards.
“Each are incredibly special to receive, but it’s even more special to receive the combat spirit award, as that’s voted by my peers,” Parker says.
During 2023, Parker won silver medals at the International Boxing Tournament in Strandja, Bulgaria, and the IBA Women’s World Boxing Championships in Delhi.
“In Delhi I faced and beat two previous world champions and beat an opponent that I had lost to at the Tokyo Olympics, showing me the improvements I had made since the Olympics,” Parker says.
The momentum kept rolling through to the 2023 Pacific Games, held in the Solomon Islands in November, where Parker fought her way to gold to book her place at the 2024 Paris Olympics.
The 27-year-old will become the first Australian female boxer to compete at two Olympic games when she steps into the ring next year in France.
“It all came together and it was a great way to end the year,” says Parker.
“I know that I’m going come up against some really tough opponents at the Olympic games and I know they aren’t going to expect what I’ve got for them.”