REASON TO SMILE: McLeod and sports/culture minister Olivia 'Babsy' Grange strike a pose for the cameras.
Star power, glitz and glam, and great energy commingled as the sporting fraternity, under the auspices of the RJR/Gleaner Sports Foundation, paused to celebrate the past year’s most outstanding achievements in sports, honouring top individual athletes, administrators and teams. TALLAWAH was at the Jamaica Pegasus-hosted ceremony (emceed by the enduring Neville Bell and Dahlia Harris) on Friday night to capture the highlights:
> First-time winner Omar McLeod spoke from the heart, shed a few tears and elicited resounding applause, as he gave his Sportsman of the Year acceptance speech at the podium. “Obviously I did something great to receive this,” the 23-year-old sprint hurdler quipped, before going on to reminisce on his journey and urge young dreamers to keep their eyes on the prize, while thanking his bonafide supporters. “This award is not just for me,” he said, “it’s for all the people who genuinely believed and cared.”
> Though celebrating 50 years of making hits, Ernie Smith is as energetic and young-at-heart as ever. The sole musical performer of the night, he dipped into his repertoire for the classics, giving sprightly, sing-along renditions of “Life is Just for Living,” “Play Di Music,” “All for Jesus” and “Duppy or Gunman.’
> For the second straight year, the VMBS Youth Award was presented during the ceremony. Wolmer’s Girls standout Aiko Jones, who excels on the volleyball court, received the award from VMBS’ Peter Reid, while proud mom Paula-Ann Porter-Jones beamed, seated close to the front of the audience. Both of Aiko’s parents represented Jamaica in volleyball.
> A Don Wehby speech is not to be missed, if only for the anecdotal humour and nuggets of wisdom that he always imparts. His thought-provoking keynote address was no different, challenging public and private sector interests to play their part in building Sports Jamaica Incorporated, even as he expounded on the role of sports in tourism and its role as a unifying force to reduce crime.
> With 21 global medals to her credit, including eight Olympic medals (three gold) and five won at the Commonwealth Games, Veronica Campbell-Brown remains Jamaica’s most decorated female athlete, carrying on the Merlene Ottey legacy. Stunning in black, she drew a standing ovation when she went up to collect the Gleaner Iconic Award for global accomplishment (being presented for the sixth time), wiping away the tears as she made her way back to her chair.
> The first big award of the night, the Chairman’s Award went to veteran pollster and sports administrator Don Anderson, for outstanding contribution to the development of sports in Jamaica. The biggest surprise of the night: cricketer Oshane Thomas secured the most votes to win the People’s Choice Performance of the Year Award.
> “It is history in the making that a swimmer has won this award twice,” Alia Atkinson remarked. As expected, the swimming sensation copped Sportswoman of the Year honours for the second time in her flourishing career. Unavoidably absent, she sent us a video message, in which she thanked the event organizers and urged her fellow compatriots to continue the fight for sporting excellence, in spite of the great odds.