The RJR Sportsman and Sportswoman of the Year Awards are in just over two weeks and as usual track and field athletes are expected to dominate the list of winners at the end of the night. Usain Bolt and Shelly Ann-Fraser-Pryce are expected to be favorites for the Sportsman and Sportswoman of the Year.
Bolt, whose form throughout the year was ordinary by his lofty standards but that he was able to overcome the challenge of injury to win three gold medals for a third time since 2009, makes him a hot favorite. The Pocket Rocket looks even more certain by virtue of her dominant year during which she was easily the class of a quality women’s field to win the women’s 100-metres and anchor Jamaica to relay gold and the second fastest time ever in the sprint relay makes her a virtual shoe-in.
The toughest group to select a winner from however is in the People’s Choice Award. Well, it certainly seems that way. For me, it’s easy.
Simon Dawkins’ last minute strike against Nicaragua was special. Having been surprised 3-2 by the Central Americans here at the National Stadium in Kingston, the Reggae Boyz needed to fly to Managua and win by two clear goals. But with mere seconds to go and Jamaica leading 1-0, having thrown the kitchen sink at the home team, Jamaica desperately needed that second goal to go through to the penultimate round. Enter Simon Dawkins whose world-class volley at the death changed the fortunes of the Reggae Boyz and prevented a fourth straight failed campaign since Jamaica last qualified for France ‘98.
Alia Atkinson and Chris Gayle both created history. Jamaica’s most successful winner and the 2014 Sportswoman of the Year, became the first ever Jamaican to win a medal at the FINA long course World Championships in Kazan, Russia when she won silver in the 100-metre breast-stroke in August.
In February, Gayle became the first batsman to score a double century in a One Day International World Cup when he smashed 215 against Zimbabwe. He also created his own exclusive club as the only man to score a Test triple century, ODI double century and T20 century.
Danielle Williams shocked the world and herself to win gold in the women’s 100 metre hurdles at the IAAF World Athletic Championships in Beijing, China. No one could have predicted that Williams would have taken on and beaten a field that included the defending champion Brianna Rollins and her teammates Sharika Nelvis, Dawn Harper Nelson, and Jasmin Stowers who dominated the sprint hurdles all year long. But, through a series of mishaps and perfect timing, the soft-spoken World University Games Champion came through to win in a personal best 12.57s and add to Jamaica’s impressive medal haul.
But as impressive as all these performances were, the one that tops the list for me and should win the People’s Choice Award is the stirring performance of Jamaica’s women’s mile relay team at the World Championships. The team of Christine Day, Shericka Jackson, Stephanie-Ann McPherson and Novlene Williams Mills, evoked tears of joy as they ran a near perfect race to claim Jamaica’s second mile relay world title and it’s first since 2001.
But that’s not the only reason why they should be the People’s Choice for 2015. There are many reasons why this mile relay team was successful. From Paul Francis’ brilliant setting up of the team, putting Shericka Jackson on the second leg and forcing Alyson Felix to run one of the fastest legs in history to catch Stephanie McPherson, to the brilliant opening leg produced by Christine Day. But the woman who made it all possible was the wily veteran Novlene Williams Mills.
Few who follow track and field closely will forget how close Williams Mills came to copping gold in Osaka in 2007, leading the 400 metre finals for all but the last 30 metres before running out of gas and being passed by the British pair of Christine Ohuruogu and Nicola Sanders.
Ever since then Novlene has always given her best for her country before she had to face her toughest battle yet.
Fighting cancer, doing a double mastectomy and undergoing chemotherapy is one of the most difficult things anyone can endure. But despite the adversity she won that battle to become Diamond League champion in 2014. In 2015, there were so many better than she was but she never stopped trying.
Earlier this season, a thyroid problem had her feeling weak and tired and impacted her training. It’s among the reasons she struggled on the circuit this year but as fate would have it, she was matched up with no other than rising American star, World Indoor champion Francena McCorory on the anchor leg. Before Felix won the individual title with the fastest time in the year, McCorory was the fastest in the world for 2015.
Her 49.83 was matched up against Williams-Mills’ 50.47s that was run in the women’s final where she finished sixth. So with the Americans holding a slight lead, Novlene, having overcome cancer, age, and thyroid problems, had one more thing to overcome – a three-metre lead held by the USA courtesy of Felix’s 47.72 run.
But in those 400 metres, the 33-year-old tucked in behind the American and timed her run to perfection, surging past the American down the stretch to take Jamaica to the title. The shriek released by Shericka Jackson as her teammate crossed the line echoed the exultation here at home thousands of miles away.
That emotion surpassed that evoked by the lovable Danielle Williams who was a pleasant surprise for Jamaicans. There were tears everywhere and the sight of Novlene surging down the home stretch, no matter how many times you watch it, generates those palpable emotions like you were seeing it for the first time. And that is why I feel that the collective performance of our golden quarter-milers, Day, Jackson, McPherson and Williams-Mills deserve to be the People’s Choice performance for 2015.