ALL HANDS ON DECK: Awardees and sports officials sharing a post-ceremony photo-op; (below) Richards doing press.
The University of Technology-based MVP Track Club reigned supreme at the 2014 Golden Cleats Awards at the Terra Nova Hotel in St. Andrew on Friday night, sweeping the top three awards — Male Athlete of the Year, Female Athlete of the Year and Coach of the Year. While early favourite Kaliese Spencer picked up the female prize, shot-put dynamo O'Dayne Richards got the nod for the male equivalent over Kemar Bailey-Cole, Hansle Parchment and Rasheed Dwyer. Stephen Francis, who did not attend the ceremony, was named Coach of the Year.
But it was a junior star who stole the spotlight. Wolmer's Boys phenom Jaheel Hyde picked up two prizes: the Howard Aris Awards for Non-Traditional Events (presented to a most outstanding junior) and the Sotiabank Group/JAAA Howard Aris Scholarship. The promising female equivalent went to Natalia Whyte.
Responding on behalf of the nominees and awardees, Spencer (a vision in a close-cut cream ensemble and sky-scraping heels) emphasized the motivation that this kind of recognition afford local athletes year after year. "Awards like the Golden Cleats are important because they provide the encouragement that we need in realizing our dreams," the 27-year-old noted. "We hope to keep lifting the spirits of our Jamaican community and waving the flag high." In her comments earlier, Minister with Responsibility for Sport, Natalie Neita-Headley, made similar points. "Our national sports are built on the backs of those who never got a dime for their efforts," she said. "The athletes continue to inspire and make us proud. As the government we are putting in the grassroots programmes because we want to continue doing well for the years to come."
Established five years ago, thanks to a partnership between the Jamaica Athletics Administrative Association (JAAA) and the Scotiabank Group — to raise funds and to recognize top athletes and coaches for their sterling contributions to track-and-field and, by extension, Jamaica — the Golden Cleats Awards has grown from an afternoon luncheon to a sparkling evening ceremony attended by athletes and sporting-world luminaries dressed up in their finest.
According to JAAA First Vice-President, Dave Myrie, the collaboration between the sporting body and the financial titans has proved incredibly fruitful, securing capital to purchase equipment and training infrastructure for young athletes - and scholarships to aid in youth development. "We truly value our partnership and commitment to the sustainable development of track-and-field in Jamaica. We look forward to maintaining this partnership for years to come," Myrie told the packed pavilion. "Track-and-field belongs to all of us; we are all custodians of this great sport."