Servicemen and women who have excelled in sports over the past year were recognised at the 25th anniversary of the Combined Services Sports Awards, held at the RAF Club in London this week. Report by Leigh Hamilton.
The awards, which were presented by Her Royal Highness The Princess Royal, are an annual event which mark the culmination of the many sporting successes achieved by the men and women of the Armed Forces.
With nominations from many different sporting genres, this year boxing reigned supreme, and was the only sport to win more than one of the five awards.
Sportswoman of the Year, Lieutenant Lucy O’Connor from the Royal Navy, has been boxing for the past five years and, until temporary illness recently affected her, was captain of the Great Britain Women’s Boxing Team.
On receiving her award, Lieutenant O’Connor said:
I’m absolutely delighted. I’m hugely humbled by my fellow nominees and their amazing achievements. It is third time lucky! I’ve always wanted one of these beautiful awards, so I’m very lucky today. It’ll go pride of place on the mantlepiece obviously!
Of her boxing career within the Royal Navy, Lieutenant O’Connor said:
It’s been an immense learning curve and an immense experience. Over the last five years I’ve managed to go all over the world with the Great Britain squad, so I’ve been extremely fortunate to have done what I’ve done so far.
2012 is the goal. I’m back on fitness now so it’s a case of competing and getting back in the ring. I’ve got the national championships coming up and hopefully the internationals toward the end of the year, just so I can get my hand back in. Then there are the qualifiers for the Olympics next year.
The Sportsman of the Year award went to Major Angus McLeod for his achievements in target rifle shooting. Major McLeod was unable to attend the ceremony as he is currently on deployment, so Brigadier Richard Dennis received the award on his behalf.
The other boxing award of the event went to Squadron Leader Ray Morley from the RAF who won the Sports Official of the Year gong. He said:
I’m surprised, delighted and rather humbled given the competition. I know one of the other nominees, Sergeant Tony Davis, who is an ex-international boxer who brought Army boxing on from its high point to a point of excellence. So I don’t underestimate any of the competition at all, hence why I’m humbled.
Since being a child I got heavily involved in boxing, it’s in my blood and I can’t leave it alone. I’m rather passionate about it. I’m aiming for the Olympics now and I’ll carry on doing what I can, not only because I love the game, but also hopefully so we can progress Service boxing and boxing at a national level so we can prove ourselves on the world’s stage.
Ultimately my dream is to see boxing in the schools on the curriculum the way it used to be.
Another winner from the awards, who has his eye firmly on the 2012 Olympic Games, is Corporal Terry Byrne, who was presented with the Special Award for Achievement in Adaptive Sports.
Corporal Byrne was injured whilst on patrol in Afghanistan in August 2008. He said:
I’m really proud of getting the award and it’s a great achievement for me personally. I went to Selly Oak for six weeks and when I was there I was watching the Beijing Games and I decided that I wanted to focus on sport.
I went to Battle Back who got me into sport. From there the GB team spotted me during the para-cycling and I got on their team.
Despite his injuries, Corporal Byrne has triumphed over adversity. He explained:
In April 2010 I got the world record for the team sprint. And in the past weekend I broke the record twice for the team sprint and got the Gold back. I train two or three times a day and I train hard, so I feel like I’m getting the rewards for the amount of effort I put in.
I’ve got a lot more to come. I’m not a refined cyclist yet, I’m a strong athlete. I want to be a strong bike rider. It’s now all about training for the next 18 months for London 2012 and hopefully I’ll get some medals there.
The Sports Team of the Year Award went to the Army Offshore Sailing Racing Team who have recently been flying the flag for UK sailing by winning several awards.
Lieutenant Colonel Tim Hill is the Rear Commodore Offshore Racing. He said:
I think it’s tremendous, mainly because the team is up to a hundred soldiers, men and women, able-bodied and injured, who are busy on operations and have busy jobs, and who all have had the opportunity to race a really fantastic racing boat.
We’ve had a really busy programme around Britain and Ireland, across the North Sea, across the east coast, down to Gran Canaria and across the Atlantic. Now she’s in Miami from where she’ll sail up the east coast, coming back on another transatlantic race in June/July time.
In the whole ocean racing club season we came second overall behind a professional Dutch boat, so we were the first British boat. We came second in our class and we won a number of special trophies including the Haylock Cup and the Serendip Trophy.
At the end of the ceremony a special recognition award was presented to Captain Graham Robinson from the Royal Navy who in April is retiring from being the Combined Services Sports Board Secretary.