World beaters wear crowns
André Lowe, Senior Staff Reporter
Hers was an emotional, inspiring speech; his tugged at the heart, pulled a smile and reminded us why we love sports - both captured the essence of triumph in hardships.
With each stroke and jab, smooth-talking swimmer Alia Atkinson and colourful boxer Nicholas 'The Axeman' Walters had the sporting world at their feet in 2014 - still, nothing quite compares to wearing the crowns at home.
You couldn't miss it (almost like the bright pink tie that popped under MC Neville Bell's suit); and as Jamaica saluted her freshly minted top male and female athletes for 2014 at Friday evening's RJR Sports Foundation National Sportsman and Sportswoman of the Year Awards at The Jamaica Pegasus, it was clear how much it meant to the pair.
Atkinson, twice a runner-up, nearly brought the audience to tears as she shared her family's struggles throughout her pursuit of excellence, shortly after becoming only the third woman from her sport to win the prestigious award.
The 25-year-old, who has been swimming competitively for about 15 years or so, encouraged patience with struggling athletes and encouraged her peers to be mindful of their responsibilities as ambassadors.
"This has been an exciting year for Jamaica and Jamaica's swimming. We, as a nation, have done tremendously ... having the fastest on land and now in water," said Atkinson, who became the first black woman to win a title and the second to hold a world record after her 1:02.36 and gold medal performance at the FINA World Short Course in the 100m breaststroke.
Atkinson, who also won silver (50m breaststroke) and bronze (100m breaststroke) at the Commonwealth Games last year before finishing third on points in the FINA World Cup Short Course Series, was also presented with the public vote People's Choice Performance of the Year award for her world-record equalling swim.
"I have seen the hardships involved in sports and I have seen a lot of good swimmers come and go because of this. The majority of athletes get better when they mature and expand their knowledge of the sport, but what happens when they fail and there is no one to help them back up. They may never get to experience just how great they could have been," Atkinson said.
"When a youth has fallen, we need to nurture them and bring back their confidence. We should praise the athletes for their perseverance, their passion and spirit to fight and their dedication to succeed for the green, black and gold," added Atkinson, who is staging a swimming clinic over the weekend along with her coach Chris Anderson.
"I try as a Jamaican athlete to expand my horizons. I urge athletes to realise that what we do in our respective sport is not just for us. When we achieve greatness, everyone in Jamaica achieves it with us, and its because of that feeling of association and family that we must use our popularity for good," Atkinson encouraged.
Kaliese Spencer, who won the Commonwealth Games gold as well as the IAAF Diamond race in the 400m hurdles along with 400m silver at the World Indoors, was named as runner-up for the sportswoman of the year award.
Walters - wooden axe in hand - must have had a good hunch that this would be his year. The boxer spent the last few years watching Usain Bolt collect the award and wondered to himself if he would ever experience it for himself.
The script was written, however, when he successfully defended his WBA Featherweight title against Vic Darchinyan before winning the WBA Super Featherweight title against hotshot Nonito Donaire to go 25 professional fights unbeaten.
Who would have thought? Not bad for a kid whose first pair of boxing gloves was made from drink boxes.
"I'm going to leave a message to the youths - the future athletes. I'm from off the street, literally off the street, running around at 13 years old without shoes, now look where I'm at. I'm a world champion, Jamaica's Sportsman of the Year. To get Jamaica's Sportsman of the Year is like getting sportsman of the world," Walters exclaimed.
"I'm very happy to be selected, to be an ambassador for boxing that I can be an example to the youngsters. I'm a person that they can look up to, because if I make it then so can they. This role that I'm playing is a positive role, and I'm going to continue doing it," said Walters, whose Panamanian girlfriend is expected to give birth soon.
"It's a boy," he laughed as she smiled. "I tell my girlfriend to be careful because that's Jamaica's future right there, that's a future world champion!"
It was a good night also for ever-improving shot put man O'Dayne Richards, who was named as runner-up Sportsman of the Year, after a year that saw him set a national and Commonwealth Games record of 21.61m on his way to gold at the championships.
Legendary Jamaican sprinter Donald Quarrie was presented with the Sagicor Iconic Award, with female boxer Alicia Ashley winning the Chairman's Award.
Awards were also presented to medal winners and top finishers at major international meets as well as category prizes for each sport.
For the first time, awards were also presented for competitors in 'mind games' with chess and bridge being recognised at this year's function. The recipients were Damion Davy (chess) and Debbie-Ann Porter (bridge).
Jaheel Hyde (Wolmer's), Britney Dixon (Vere), Junior Flemmings (Jamaica College), Ramone Francis (Eltham), Shanice Beckford (Queen's) and Khadija Shaw (St Jago) received awards for outstanding performances in Inter-Secondary Schools Sports Association competitions.
Corporate lawyer and former national representative Bancroft Gordon delivered the main address.