By Tom Degun

Verena Bentele_with_Best_Male_Athlete_Gerd_Schnfelder_Beijing_December_2011December 11 - The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) have honoured their top athletes, officials, media and contributors at their General Assembly in Beijing with alpine skier Gerd Schoenfelder and nordic skier Verena Bentele claiming the two top prizes at the 2011 Paralympic Awards Gala, which were partnered by Allianz.

German legend Schoenfelder picked up the best male athlete trophy after claiming five medals in his sixth Winter Paralympic Games in Vancouver last year to increase his total Paralympic Games medal haul to 22 and 16 golds.

His German compatriot Bentele unsurprisingly took the women's award after the visually impaired athlete won five gold medals at Vancouver 2010.

Both athletes announced their retirement earlier this year and admitted that the prize was a fitting way to cap off their remarkable careers.

"It feels really good," said Schoenfelder, a single leg amputee.

"It is certainly a big honour to get this wonderful award.

"After 20 years of serious sport, this award is the perfect culmination."

Verena Bentele_with_guide_Vancouver_February_2010
Bentele (pictured above right), who won the 2010 Laureus World Sportsperson of the Year with a Disability prize, added that she was extremely proud of her performance in Vancouver.

"I think that's the best an athlete can do," Bentele said.

"That's one of the very, very few moments as an athlete where I did everything right."

Japan's ice sledge hockey squad were named the best team after picking up a shock silver medal in Vancouver while Ukraine's Olesksandra Kononova was awarded with the best Paralympic Games debut prize after winning three golds and a silver in nordic skiing.

Switzerland's Christian Egli was named the most exemplary Paralympic Games official after his stellar work as the IPC technical delegate for cross-country skiing and assistant for biathlon in 2010.

The Awards Gala also included the presentation of the IPC Paralympic media awards for coverage of the Vancouver Games.

Jeff Crow of Australia's Sport the Library won the photography category for his image of Australian sit skier Shannon Dallas competing in the slalom event.

Gary Kingston_from_Vancouver_Sun
Gary Kingston (pictured above right) from Canada's Vancouver Sun won the written category for his stories on both Canadian athletes and international heroes at Vancouver 2010.

Meanwhile Sky Sport New Zealand won the broadcast category after capturing the true spirit of the Paralympic Games, in particular with its extraordinary coverage of alpine skier Adam Hall.

The Gala concluded with four dedicated individuals receiving the Paralympic Order - the highest tribute a person connected with the Paralympic Movement may achieve.

Paralympic Order recipients included Matthias Berg, seven-time Paralympian and involved member of the German National Paralympic Committee; Luca Pancalli, President of the Italian Paralympic Committee; Nabil Salem, the President of the African Paralympic Committee; and the late Randy Snow, a four-time Paralympian and a former member of the International Tennis Federation (ITF).

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