Cape Town - German racing driver Nico Rosberg was recognised ahead of South African sprinter Wayde van Niekerk on Tuesday night, in a tight contest for the Breakthrough of the Year trophy at the Laureus World Sport Awards in Monaco.
Already a winner of two major awards in 2016 - the SA Sports Star of the Year and Association of National Olympic Committees (Anoc) Male Athlete of the Rio Games - Van Niekerk was also an IAAF Male Athlete of the Year finalist last year.
He had no luck on this occasion however, with Rosberg called up on stage to collect the accolade after winning the Formula One world title.
They had been nominated in a hard-fought category which also included Ethiopian distance running star Almaz Ayana, who shattered the world 10 000m record at the Rio Games, and three teams - the Fiji rugby sevens squad who earned the men's Olympic title, maiden English Premier League title winners Leicester City Football Club and European Championship football quarter-finalists Iceland.
Van Niekerk enjoyed a remarkable 2016 campaign which included the African 200m and 4x100m relay titles, the Olympic 400m gold medal in a world record time of 43.03, and a unique achievement of becoming the first man to run under 10 (9.98), 20 (19.94) and 44 seconds in his career.
"Well done to Wayde for again representing our country with pride on the international stage. It was an honour for a South African athlete to be nominated against such esteemed peers in various codes," said Athletics South Africa President, Aleck Skhosana.
Laureus Winners 2017
Laureus World Sportsman of the Year: Usain Bolt
Laureus World Sportswoman of the Year: Simone Biles
Laureus World Comeback of the Year: Michael Phelps
Laureus World Sportsperson of the Year with a Disability: Beatrice Vio
Laureus World Breakthrough of the Year: Nico Rosberg
Laureus World Action Sportsperson of the Year: Rachel Atherton
Laureus World Team of the Year: Chicago Cubs
Laureus World Spirit of Sport: Leicester City
Laureus Sport for Good: Waves of Change
Laureus Sporting Inspiration: Olympic Refugee Team
Laureus Best Sporting Moment: Barcelona U12