15 Mar 2010

Der Steiger Award Gala Dinner

Thank you, Ludger, for those kind and overly generous comments.

President Tadic, Prime Minister Ruttgers, Lord Mayor Scholz, distinguished guests, ladies and gentleman,

It is a pleasure to be here tonight, and it is a great honor to receive the Stieger Award.

It is also a distinct honor to be introduced by Ludger. He has a special place in our sport.

There are a lot of good riders who establish a bond with a special horse. They shine with their favorite equine partner.

Ludger seems to find common ground and establish a bond with any horse he rides. He shines on horse, after horse, after horse. That's why he is considered one of the greatest riders of all time.

He also exhibits the personal traits that this award celebrates. I say that from experience.

When I was frustrated and angry with myself after a bad ride, or when I was unsure about the next steps in my equestrian career, he was there with a kind word or good advice.

Thank you, Ludger.

I have to admit that I do not know much about mining. However, I do understand and appreciate the virtues that we associate with Der Steiger — straightforward, open, honest, fair and tolerant.

It is that association that makes the Steiger Award special.

Those are also the values that we cherish in sports.

Sports are a great equalizer. Once you are on the field of play, race, religion, income and ancestry no longer matter. No one knows, or cares, whether your father was a king or a miner.

The equality of competition can be particularly empowering for women and young girls. For far too many of them, sports is the one opportunity they have to break free from societal norms that stifle their creativity, their passion and their dreams.

The only thing that matters in sports is your performance. And a winning performance isn't measured just by medal counts. It is measured by behavior.

A true champion has the virtues of Der Steiger. The great German skier Maria Riesch is a true champion.

As you probably know, Riesch started poorly in the Vancouver Olympics, coming in eighth in the downhill. How did she react to that disappointment?

First she congratulated the winner, Lindsey Vonn of the United States —Riesch's biggest rival and one of her best friends.

Then Riesch said this: “I didn't ski well enough to get a medal…Tomorrow, I will do better.”

No excuses. No complaints. Just an honest, straightforward assessment.

Her reaction to her setback on the slopes would have made her a champion even if she hadn't gone on to win two gold medals.

Most of us will never ski like Maria Riesch. I know I won't. But we can encourage young people to embrace the values that she displays.

That is why the International Olympic Committee exists. That is why the International Equestrian Federation exists. That's why I am committed to both organizations.

We must ensure that all children — boys and girls, able bodied or challenged — have an opportunity to participate in sport.

The important thing in sports is not to do well, it's to do — to participate. It is literally a matter of life and death.

Obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and other ailments related to inactivity are among the greatest killers we face worldwide. In my region, 40 percent of children suffer from diabetes.

That is what motivates me. I am no longer an active competitor but I want to do all I can to encourage participation in the sport I love.

Equestrian sport has had a powerful influence on me. It gave me a chance to test myself and to find out what I could achieve in arena where ancestry and family connections offer no advantage.

It has given me some of the happiest moments of my life, moments shared with my father and my family. It led me to my husband, Sheikh Mohammed, who shares my passion for the sport.

Those joys now come full circle as I experience the thrill of seeing my own daughter on her pony.

Receiving this award will join those happy moments in my treasure box of memories.

Thank you for this honor.