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Atkinson, Walters rule - Swimmer, boxer top RJR awards

Published:Saturday | January 17, 2015 | 12:00 AM

André Lowe, Senior Staff Reporter

No surprises, as boxer Nicholas 'The Axeman' Walters and swimming star Alia Atkinson, were last night added to the hallowed corridors of Jamaican sporting heritage, after coming out on top at the 54th RJR Sports Foundation National Sportsman and Sportswoman of the Year Awards ceremony at The Jamaica Pegasus last night.

The pair, who a day earlier had received special Gleaner Honour Awards for their competitive representation in their respective disciplines, entered the grandiose ballroom as the overwhelming favourites and duly left a few hours later, clutching the island's top sporting accolade, ending a run of 40 years since a track and field athlete didn't win either of the top awards.

Kaliese Spencer, the 400m hurdling standout, fresh from what has been one of the most dominating seasons by an athlete, along with history-maker O'Dayne Richards, ensured that the 'oval office' had its say, after being named as runners-up for the national sportswoman and sportsman of the year awards respectively.

Female boxer Alicia Ashley's receiving of the Chairman's Award delivered the knockout on what was a big night for the sport - clearly on the up, with legendary sprinter Donald Quarrie being this year's recipient for the Sagicor Iconic Award.

Atkinson is only the third swimmer to win the sportswoman of the year award after Frances Noble (1968) and Belinda Phillip (1974).

Now considered one of the best on the planet after her record equalling (1:02.36) and gold medal performance at the FINA World Short Course Championships last year, Atkinson, also made social strides, becoming only the second black woman to hold a world record and first to hold a world title.

The writing was on the wall earlier in the year at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, where the 25-year-old won silver (50m breaststroke) and bronze (100m breaststroke) before finishing third overall on points in the FINA World Cup Short Course series.

Number one

Atkinson ended the year ranked number one in the world for short course for both the 50m and 100m breaststroke and number two in the 200m breaststroke.

Amazing, turns out Jamaicans are the fastest on land as well as in the water.

It was all coming full circle for Walters, and the sport of boxing, with the hard-talking; and equally hard-hitting featherweight winning the sportsman of the year award, 54 years after boxer George 'Bunny' Grant became the award's first recipient in 1961.

Walters was again successful in defending his WBA World Featherweight title, beating both Vic Darchinyan of Armenia with a fifth round knockout and Nonito Donaire with a technical knockout in the sixth round - the latter winning him global acclaim and the WBA Super Featherweight title.

The fighter has not tasted defeat in his 25 professional fights.

Runners-up Spencer and Richards can only be proud of their accomplishments in 2014.

Spencer lost only one of her 400m hurdles starts in 2014 and ended the year with the top three and eight of the top 10 times in the event. She also added some silverware with Commonwealth and Continental Cup gold as well as World Indoor Championships silver in the 400m.

Richards, her MVP Track Club stable-mate created history in the shot put at the Commonwealth Games, setting a games and National Record 21.61m en route to becoming the first Jamaican to win gold in the event. He also finished second at the Continental Cup.

Quarrie, the Sagicor Iconic Award winner, won gold (200m) and silver (100m) at the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal and is one of the country's most successful athletes in history.

andre.lowe@gleanerjm.com