Sports

Shaunae, Stevie named top athletes

Olympic gold medalists honored as the athletes of the year; 19 inducted into hall of fame

At the end of the day, it appears that not even a Most Valuable Player (MVP) season in a major sports organization or a near 20-20 rookie campaign in Major League Baseball (MLB) could trump a pair of Olympic gold medals.

Shaunae Miller-Uibo and Steven Gardiner were selected as The Bahamas’ national senior male and female athletes of the year once again, culminating the National Sports Awards on Friday night inside the Andros Ballroom at Baha Mar.

There were eight finalists for the awards – six men and two women.

For the Senior Female Athlete of the Year Award, two women were heads and shoulders above the rest as they turned in two of the all-time great years by Bahamian sportswomen in 2021 – arguably the two greatest single season performances in Bahamian athletics history.

Miller-Uibo recently said in an interview that the world record in the women’s 400 meters (m) is the goal for 2022, and given the year she had in 2021, while battling a series of injuries, who could doubt her?

Running six races over five days and five races over three days at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, she was able to endure immense pain, particularly with right hip and hamstring injuries, to run the fastest time in her life in the women’s 400m final in Tokyo. Miller-Uibo solidified herself as the sixth-fastest woman of all-time, running a new North American, Central American and Caribbean (NACAC) area record of 48.36 seconds in the Olympic final in Tokyo, Japan.

She repeated as Olympic Champion in the women’s 400m, becoming the first Bahamian to win two individual Olympic gold medals, and the second woman ever to repeat as Olympic Champion in the women’s 400m, joining Marie-José Pérec of France, who accomplished the feat in 1992 and again in 1996.

Miller-Uibo became the first Bahamian to compete in two event finals in a single Olympics, running the women’s 200 and 400m, and finished as the world leader in the latter for the fourth time in the last six years. Miller-Uibo produced the two fastest times in the women’s 400m in 2021 and was the only athlete to run under 49 seconds in that event. She ran national records in both the 200 and 400m indoors, 20.40 and 50.21 seconds, with the latter also serving as an area record, breaking Bahamian Christine Amertil’s mark of 50.34 seconds.

Jonquel “JJ” Jones was no slouch.

She was the first Bahamian to be named MVP of a major professional sports league, receiving 48 of 49 first-place votes for Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) MVP. She was named the 2021 Associated Press’ WNBA Player of the Year. Jones led the Connecticut Sun to the best record in the 2021 WNBA season, and their best record in franchise history.

Jones won the WNBA Peak Performer Award for rebounding for the third time in her career. She was an All-WNBA First Team member, an All-WNBA Defensive First Team member, and finished tied for third in voting for the 2021 WNBA Defensive Player of the Year.

Jones averaged a career-high 19.4 points, 2.8 assists and 1.3 steals per game. She finished fourth in the league in scoring and top 10 in blocks, steals and field goal percentage. She also finished second in the 2021 WNBA MTN Dew Three-Point Contest and was named an all-star for the third time in her career.

Jones won WNBA Eastern Conference Player of the Month three times and was the player of the week four times.

Minister of Youth, Sports and Culture Mario Bowleg said in the keynote address on Friday night that all eight finalists are deserving of the top honors.

“In my pinion, all are worthy of being considered the top performing male and female athletes of 2021,” said Bowleg who quipped that he is relieved that he was not a part of the difficult process of selecting the overall winners. “Let me extend my personal congratulations to each one of the nominees. You have each made the country proud and lifted our spirits. Your performances were outstanding and I look forward to celebrating more of your accomplishments in the future. I wish to thank the director (Director of Sports Tim Munnings) and a distinguished panel of knowledgable sports persons who were aware of each of the athletes’ performances and reviewed them to come out with two winners for the senior male and female athletes of the year. It was indeed a challenging process for them, and I am relieved that I was not a part of the process.”

For the men, there were some fantastic individual performances.

Overall winner of The Bahamas’ Senior Male Athlete of the Year Award Steven Gardiner became the first Bahamian male to win an individual Olympic gold medal this year, tying the world lead of 43.85 seconds in the Olympic final, which was his second fastest time ever. He also became the second Bahamian to win back-to-back World and Olympic titles, joining Tonique Williams.

Gardiner finished unbeaten in the men’s 400m in 2021, ran sub-44 seconds in the men’s 400m for the fourth time in the last five years, only missing 2020 because of a COVID-shortened season, and qualified in two individual events for the Olympics – the men’s 200 and 400m.

What more could be said of the year Jasrado “Jazz” Chisholm Jr. had.

As the seventh Bahamian to be called up to the majors, he had the most productive rookie season among Bahamians. He batted .248 with 115 hits, 53 RBIs (runs batted in) and 70 runs scored in first full season in the majors. Chisholm had a near 20-20 season with 18 home runs and 23 stolen bases. He led all MLB rookies with 23 stolen bases, and was fourth in the National League, and had a .959 fielding percentage at second base and a .925 fielding percentage at shortstop.

Chavano “Buddy” Hield averaged more than 16 points per game for the third straight year for the Sacramento Kings (16.6), and added 4.7 rebounds per game. He also had a career-high 3.6 assists per game and added 0.9 steals and 0.4 blocks per game while shooting 40.6 percent from the field and 39.1 percent from three-point range.

Hield finished second in the National Basketball Association (NBA) in made three pointers for the 2020-2021 season with 282, breaking his own franchise record of 278. He became the Sacramento Kings’ all-time record holder for made three-pointers, breaking Peja Stojaković’s record of 1070 three-pointers.

Hield now has the three most prolific shooting performances from three-point territory in franchise history (2018-2021). He was named as the number 51 player in the NBA for the 2021-2022 season according to the NBArank 2021 on espn.com.

Averaging 16.9 points, a career-high five rebounds, 1.8 assists and 0.9 steals per game for the Sacramento Kings, while shooting 40.8 percent from the field and 39.1 percent from three-point range this season, Hield is a frontrunner for the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year Award.

Michael Strachan became the third Bahamian-born player to be drafted into the National Football League (NFL), taken in seventh round, 229th overall by the Indianapolis Colts in the 2021 NFL Draft, following in the footsteps of Ed Smith and Devard Darling. He had an impressive preseason for the Colts in which he totaled 10 receptions for 130 yards, including a game in which he caught five passes for 61 yards in a 27-17 loss for the Colts to the Detroit Lions.

Strachan had two catches for 26 yards in the Colts season opener – a 28-16 loss for the Colts to the Seattle Seahawks. He played 33 snaps on offense in week two of the 2021 NFL season against the Los Angeles Rams – the third-most of any Colts receiver.

Strachan is the second Bahamian-born player to catch a pass in the NFL, joining Devard Darling. He is listed as the number six receiver on the Colts’ depth chart, and as a former track athlete, he showed tremendous speed at the NFL Pro Day with a 4.54 seconds 40-yard dash time; and added a vertical jump of 35 inches and a broad jump of 127 inches.

Kai Jones became the fifth Bahamian to be drafted into the NBA and third since 2016. He was drafted 19th overall by the New York Knicks and traded to the Charlotte Hornets on draft night. In his final season at the University of Texas at Austin, Jones averaged 8.8 points, 4.8 rebounds and 0.92 blocks while shooting 58 percent from the field and 38.2 percent from three-point territory in 22.8 minutes per game.

He was the Big 12 Sixth Man of the Year, and had a number of highlight reel dunks in the NBA Summer League, including the number two play of the summer according to ‘NBA: The Jump’ television show and the number three play according to ESPN SportsCenter’s top plays of the summer.

Eugene Stuart became the first Bahamian to win a professional volleyball title, getting the job done with CSM Arcada Galati in Division A1 in Romania – the top tier volleyball league in that country, as they repeated as league champions. He plays middle blocker and helped Arcada Galati accomplish an 18-2 win/loss record in the regular season, and a 4-2 record in the postseason.

Stuart has signed with Mladost Kastela in Kastela, Croatia, for the 2021-2022 season – the top tier volleyball league in that country. He is one of just three Bahamians playing professional volleyball.

Stuart was recognized by the Eastern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association (EIVA) during Black History Month for his contributions to the University of Charleston Golden Eagles volleyball program and men’s collegiate volleyball in the EIVA – an athletic conference that competes in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I.

The country also welcomed 19 members to The Bahamas’ National Sports Hall of Fame on Friday – seven from 2020 and the other 12 from 2021 – in a continued celebration of Sports Heritage Month, bringing the total number of sports honorees in the hall of fame up to 194 since the initial class of five was inducted in 1989.

Making up the Class of 2020 of The Bahamas’ National Sports Hall of Fame are: Allan Ingraham (American Football); Andre ‘Star’ Wood (Baseball); Ernestine Butler-Stubbs (Softball); Joseph Smith (Volleyball); Cora Hepburn (Volleyball); William Elliott (Baseball) – posthumously; and Colin ‘Troppy’ Knowles (Softball/Baseball) – posthumously.

The Class of 2021 consists of: Laverne Eve (Athletics); Rev. Dr. William Thompson (Softball/Baseball); Stella Knowles (Basketball/Softball); Apostle Charles W. Thompson (Basketball); Gena Mackey (Bodybuilding and Fitness); Hartie Johnson from Eleuthera (Tennis); Sheila Culmer (Administration of Disability in Sports); Oral Hudson (Volleyball); Joseph Demeritte (Volleyball); Nell Wildgoose-Russell from Grand Bahama (Softball); Barbara Thompson (Gymnastics) – posthumously; and Bert Bell (Aquatics) – posthumously.

Additionally, 13 young athletes were recognized as rising stars at the National Sports Awards on Friday night. They are: Fredrick King – basketball, Rhema Collins – basketball, Shonari Hepburn – volleyball, Marvin Johnson – swimming, Nigel Forbes – swimming, Ian Lewis – baseball, Bertram Murray Jr. – baseball, Michael Major Jr. – tennis, Abigail Simms – tennis, Dior Hepburn – equestrian, Rhema Otabor – track and field, Keyshawn Strachan – track and field, and Raine Pagliaro – equestrian.

A fun run/walk will culminate Sports Heritage Month on Saturday, November 27. That event will start and end at the Thomas A. Robinson National Stadium.

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Sheldon Longley

Sheldon Longley joined The Nassau Guardian in January 2001 as a sports reporter. He was promoted to sports editor in 2008. Sheldon has an extensive background in sports reporting. He covered three Olympic Games and three world championships, along with multiple smaller regional and local games.

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