First-time winners Richards, Spencer shine at Golden Cleats awards
Robert Bailey, Sunday Gleaner Writer
It was a clean sweep for the MVP Track Club at Friday night's Jamaica Athletics Administrative Association (JAAA)/Scotiabank Golden Cleats Awards, with first-time male and female winners O'Dayne Richards and Kaliese Spencer leading a trophy-laden night for the club.
No stranger to this award, Stephen Francis, head coach at the University of Technology-based outfit, was the third jewel in the crown, once again walking away with the coach of the year accolade at the exquisite event, which was hosted by the Terra Nova All Suite Hotel.
It was hardly a surprise when Richards and Spencer were presented with the Laura Facey-sculpted pieces, after their impressive performances this past season, but the pair did little to hide their excitement in front of an audience made up of their peers, track and field luminaries, as well as top sporting officials.
The 25-year-old Richards created history by becoming Jamaica's first gold medallist in the shot put at the Commonwealth Games, when he heaved a Games and National record 21.61 metres. Richards also finished second at the Continental Cup.
"It really feels good, and I have to give God thanks for this opportunity to win this award," said Richards, who also became the first field events athlete to win the award in its nine years of existence.
"I am grateful and honoured to be able to stand amongst these nominees because I know that they are all spectacular athletes," he said. "I am just thankful because it was a beautiful year for me, it was filled with joy, it was filled with pain, and so I am just enjoying the moment right now."
"I am very surprised because I really thought that Rasheed Dywer would have got it, as it was joy to see him going below 20 seconds in the 200m," Richards noted.
Spencer, 27, was an easy decision for the female award following a sensational season in which she won three major titles.
The 400m hurdler started the year by winning a silver medal in the 400m at the IAAF World Indoor Championships, before adding gold in the 400m hurdles at the Commonwealth Games and the IAAF Continental Cup later on.
"I am very honoured," said Spencer. "We are a nation full of great athletes, and to be the recipient of this year's award, I am very grateful.
"This is just a stepping stone, and I am happy that last season was a great one and will inspire me to train harder and, hopefully, 2015 will be a much better season," Spencer added.
In addition to coaching Spencer, Francis, who was not present, also conditions female nominees Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and Stephanie-Ann McPherson.
The Howard Aris Award - which was established in memory of the late former JAAA president to recognise athletes who represent the country with distinction in non-traditional events - was presented to 2014 World Junior 400m hurdles and Youth Olympics 110m hurdles champion Jaheel Hyde.
The 18-year-old Hyde, a student at Wolmer's Boys, collected his second award of the night when he, along with Natalliah Whyte of St Jago, received the Howard Aris Scholarships, each valued at $250,000, tenable at the University of the West Indies, University of Technology or G.C. Foster College.
- I'm honoured, and I thank God, says Richards
- This has inspired me towards greater things, says Spencer