Sports Review 2001
Compiled by Orin Davidson
Stabroek News
December 25, 2001

'Sixhead' Lewis' magnificent triumph
-Guyana's first world title win highlighted 2001

Professional Boxing:
Twenty-one years after placing Guyana on the map of global sports achievement, boxing created another first of greater significance for the Land of Many Waters in 2001.If Michael Parris's 1980 Olympic bronze medal winning performance, the first for Guyana of any kind at the highest level of amateur sport was cause for jubilation, Guyanese drowned their problems in ecstacy when Andrew `Sixhead' Lewis demolished James Page of the United States in seven rounds to win this country's first world title at the professional level.

He may not have been the first Guyana-born pugilist, to wear a prestigious championship belt, as Dennis Andries did in the 1980's, but Lewis was the first to fight under the Golden Arrowhead and win a title, unlike the Briton, under the auspices of the three fully recognised world ruling bodies.Lewis' feat in February touched the consciousness of almost every Guyanese who understand sport and triggered a series of positive reactions, never experienced before, even for the world class accomplishments of the nation's cricketers.

From the time referee Kenny Bayless, ended the bout after 2 minutes 37 seconds of the seventh round in the splendor of the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas, `Sixhead' became a household name.President Bharrat Jagdeo threw a national holiday instantly, unmindful of potential inconveniences of the unplanned for day of celebration, on Monday February 19.Albouystown in Georgetown where Lewis was born and bred, enjoyed one week of non stop celebrations and when he made that long awaited visit back home from New York with the belt, `Sixhead' was given royal treatment where ever he went in all three counties.

Apart from becoming the first Guyanese sportsman to elicit a national holiday, Lewis was bestowed with a plot of land and money for a house from the Government, two cars and endless other gifts from the private sector.Lewis' demolition of the ex-world champion was his best ever in a relatively short career of 23 fights, but his subsequent defences of the World Boxing Association belt never matched up. In pounding out a unanimous points decision over Larry Marks in his first defence, Lewis's clinical punching and timing were not on par nor was it the case when he got two nasty cuts which forced a no-decision inside two rounds against Nicaraguan Ricardo Mayorga, in the only other fight for the year for the Guyanese.

It left an opening for big punching Wayne `Big Truck' Braithwaite to steal the show in the latter half of the year and the son of Plaisance village capitalised fully as he powered his way to the World Boxing Council cruiserweight number one rating, with a series of clinical displays. In dispatching Dominican Luis Azille in three rounds in arguably the best performance by the 24-year-old, on the Lennox Lewis versus Hasim Rahman heavyweight bout undercard, he made himself the mandatory challenger for the Juan Carlos Gomez's WBC crown.It was the third fight of the year for the Brooklyn-based powerhouse in which all ended inside three rounds.

Heavyweight contender Andre Purlette also made waves for Guyana by becoming the first fighter from the country to gain a heavyweight (IBF) top 10 rating. He flattened three opponents within three rounds including American Jeremy Bates for the North American Boxing Federation (NABF) crown, to maintain an impressive 32-0 record, fighting out of Florida.

There were also impressive wins for lightweight Vivian Harris who stopped Golden Johnson and edged Jose Juarez, on his comeback after a long layoff through injury, in New York. However, Rawle Frank failed in his bid to emulate Lewis by being outpointed by Vernon Forrest for the IBF welterweight title.

Former world rater Andrew Murray came out of retirement, only to be stopped by Englishman Richard Williams for the Commonwealth light middleweight title in England while Guyana-born Howard Eastman gave an impressive display in losing a controversial points decision to American William Joppy, for the WBA middleweight crown, fighting for England.Locally, efforts were made to revive the sport with the staging of three cards which included a string of women fights. One such matchup caused a storm when 14-year-old Gizelle Stoby of Trinidad and Tobago was allowed to fight despite objections from sectors of society.

Like a messiah Carl Hooper emerged from retirement to influence one of the best years for Guyana's cricket in recent times.

Success in the Busta series four-day competition and the Red Stripe Bowl one-day tournament, was heavily dependent on Hooper, who had retired from the game abruptly two years earlier in the middle of the Australia tour. His return was initially intended to give something back to the national team, but his subsequent dominating performances led from one big accomplishment to another. Under his leadership, Guyana placed second in the Busta Cup and Busta Shield competitions, albeit under controversial circumstances on both occasions, and went on to cart off their second Red Stripe Bowl title subsequently. Along the way the right-handed all-rounder set a string of records including a 964 runs tally in the Busta series including four centuries in the season. And were it not for a controversial umpiring decision against him, in the Busta Shield final which Jamaica won on first innings, in Kingston, Hooper could well have pocketed the US$50,000 prize for a 1000-run target.

Hooper's astute leadership of Guyana forced the West Indies selectors to make him the fifth Guyanese to captain the regional team and with it came a record six Test places for players from the Land of Many Waters, when West Indies opposed Zimbabwe in Harare.Later in the year, there was no stopping Hooper's men when Red Stripe Bowl one-day competition came to town. After sweeping aside all of the Group One teams in the preliminary competition at home, Guyana made the familiar journey back to Jamaica where they initially dethroned defending champions in a heart stopping semi-final tie. By virtue of a superior win aggregate in the preliminaries, Guyana advanced to the final where they handed Barbados their second whipping in the competition, with a well-executed performance in the final.

The victory gave Guyana its second hold on the Bowl and Hooper was subsequently deservingly named Cricketer of the Year. Significantly young Ramnaresh Sarwan's batting earned him the Man of the Finals award and with that confidence he went to Sri Lanka where the right-hander outbatted everyone on the West Indies team, except superstar Brian Lara's record breaking display, in the 3-0 Test series defeat.

At the junior level, an ill-prepared Guyana team, missing five key players were embarrassed in the regional under-19 championships, hosted here, but won by the Leeward Islands. The five players Narsingh Deonarine, Ron Matthews, Rayon Thomas, Hemraj Garbarran and Vishal Arjune were previously chosen for the West Indies Under-19 team which successfully toured England in another first for local cricket.Deonarine went on to become the first Guyanese West Indian Under-19 captain for several years when he was appointed to lead the regional team for next year's World Cup in New Zealand.Along with Matthews, they are the two remaining eligible players from the five, selected for the series.

Earlier in the year, the national Under-15 team performed creditably to place second in the West Indies championship in Trinidad and Tobago where the host team utilised its home advantage to win its second title in a row. There were also four Guyanese - Sewnarine Chattergoon, Kevin Bazil Reon Griffith and Esuan Crandon who were selected for the first ever West Indies cricket academy.

On the domestic front, Berbice, spearheaded by discarded West Indies leg-spinner Mahendra Nagamootoo disposed of Demerara to cart off both the Banks Malta Inter-County four-day and El Dorado one-day titles. Essequibo as usual, was the also ran team ,in the three-county competition. However, the Cinderella County boys more than merely made up numbers at the Under-19 level where they eliminated Demerara for the first time, via a first innings win, the GTM four-day competition in the semifinal. They then dominated Berbice for the majority of the final until last day batting heroics by Deonarine pulled off a comeback outright win for the defending champions.Demerara won the inaugural national under-17 competition while Berbice continued their dominance of the Under-15 series.The lone national club competition was won by yet another Berbice team, this time Albion which defeated GNIC of Georgetown in the Sunburst Orange Juice one-day final.The year also saw the demise of former national opening batsman Andrew Lyght who passed away at the age of 42 after a long battle with cancer, in 2001.

Bold attempts were made to regroup the sport in 2001 by the Colin Klass administration after the International Football Federation (FIFA) ban the previous year, but the stadium fiasco caused a huge embarrassment late in the year, from which the sport is still struggling to recover. All expectations and plans for the establishment of this country's first ever stadium were squashed in one day during the first ever visit to the country by FIFA president Sepp Blatter, who denied that the world body had promised or could finance the project.

Government officials including President Bharrat Jagdeo were among the dignitaries expected to attend a planned turning of the sod ceremony at the University of Guyana estate site, but it amounted to a farce with Blatter's announcement, which contradicted a promise of funding by his vice-president Austin Jack Warner. The Guyana Football Federation is still searching for a site to establish a training facility which FIFA will fund instead.There was more negative developments within the sport when national technical director Claude Bolton unceremoniously quit the post and returned to his home base in Canada and when Klass appeared in court on a perjury charge for statements made in the federation's appeal to the 2000 order dissolving the federation's existence.

Early in the year the GFF successfully hosted the Group One preliminary competition of the Copa Caribe regional championship, but Guyana did not capitalise on the home advantage and failed to qualify for the finals. Cuba clinched the lone place from the group by defeating the host team 3-0 in the deciding game at the GCC ground Bourda. Guyana had beaten Dominica and St Martin in their other two matches and later drew and lost matches in a two-game friendly series with Barbados at home.In domestic competition Conquerors enjoyed a splendid year by carting off the one million dollars Federation Cup (national league tournament) first prize after crowning themselves Georgetown champions in the Banks Milk Stout series. They had also won the 2000 Mayors Cup tournament staged this year and placed second in the Sprint Super Eight series to Linden's Milerock.Topp XX who displayed a superior brand of football to win the prestigious Kashif and Shanghai title from Camptown on the first day of the year, struggled thereafter without their Trinidad and Tobago-based professionals.

Another exemplary year for squash was achieved this year due in large measure to the exploits of Nicolette Fernandes. At the Caribbean Champion-ships, the locals dominated the men's competition like never before, by winning the team title and the individual crown through Canada-based Luke Fraser, in an all Guyana final with evergreen Garfield Wiltshire. Fernandes almost singlehandedly earned the women's third place as she enjoyed her best senior tournament while still a junior. In the process, Nicolette accomplished her career best victory by upsetting Caribbean Queen Marlene West when Guyana opposed Jamaica, while winning all of her matches in the team event.Only days earlier, she lost to West in the women's individual final to take second place.

Fernandes had given herself a confidence boost by winning the St Lucia Open title in May by defeating French top 10 player Nathalie Cornet. She then went on to the World Junior Championships in Malaysia and won two matches after completely dominating the Caribbean Junior series by posting a hat-trick of title wins in the individual Under-19 category. Despite her efforts, Guyana lost both the girls and boys team competitions and only Tiffany Soloman bought home another crown in the girls Under-17 category. On her return to the North American circuit, Nicollete placed second in both the Canadian and United States Junior Championships while at the local level Fernandes took the women's individual crown for the second year while Regan Pollard upset the form book to take the men's equivalent. The Cirkel tournament saw Fernandes and U.S.-based Richard Chin taking top honours in the women's and men's events.

Motor Racing:
King drove his way to the crown

Andrew King retained his crown in the prestigious Group 3 in the final meet in a year which saw Gavin Narine dominate the lesser Group 2 category.

King saved his best performance for the November international meet in a masterly performance at the annual Guyana Motor Racing and Sports Club competition.

King has developed a habit of turning back the challenges of the best of the foreign challenges on his home turf at the South Dakota circuit but he was never more convincing than in November.

The foreign challenge was spearheaded this time around by young Barbadian Stuart Williams in a Toyota Starlet who arrived with a big reputation and was even touted to break the South Dakota lap record.

Yet King pulled out all the stops with his faithful Mazda RX3 when it mattered most with two virtuoso come from behind wins in two of the three Group 3 events which left the crowd singing his praises for the entire meet.

There were also outstanding performances during the year from Narine who captured the overall championship driver for title for 2001 for his feats in Group 2 A over four rounds of competition.

However, the continued absence of the big bike events still robbed the meets of some lustre.

Earlier in the year Mark Vieira, who pulled out of the international meet because his Mazda RX7 didn't arrive on time from overseas, dominated Group 3 in two of the four meets of the national championships. He left King in his slipstream by winning four events at the first leg, breaking the national lap record in the process with a 36.21 performance and returned to make a clean sweep of the said Group 3 races in the second leg, in the absence of King and Kevin Jeffrey.

No one has dominated road competition in recent times like Dwayne Gibbs did in 2001. In more than 10 starts he was only beaten once in domestic competition.

Included among his triumphs was the prestigious three-stage National Sports Commission race staged over 181 miles which he also won the previous year.

It took a punctured wheel at a crucial point in the 2001 four-stage event to deny him the winner's prize which was taken by evergreen United-States-based Aubrey Gordon.

The lanky Plaisance wheeler was given the added incentive of doing well by being granted full sponsorship and employment from security outfit Federal Management Systems who also bought him a modern state of the art road racing cycle.

In his overseas ventures, Gibbs won a 75-miler in Anguilla where he beat compatriot, Antigua-based Godfrey Pollydore. But in Curacao, a uniform problem cost the Guyanese pair third and fourth places respectively in the 80-mile road race of a two-day Caribbean meet. A protest made by a Bermudian relegated Pollydore from third and Gibbs from fourth.

Gibbs and a team also journeyed to French Guiana for the second straight year for the gruelling Tour de Cayenne 10-stage event in which he was best Guyanese finisher.

Encouraging performances were also recorded by Tyrone Hamilton who won 16 medals in category one of the three-meet series in Trinidad and Tobago.

In light of his domination of local meets, a more organised scheduling of international meets to provide Gibbs with exposure is needed if he is to rise above his level. Similarly Hamilton, Shaka Whyte, Jude Bentley and the others need the exposure to improve.

This country's inability to make the type of impact it should in international competition continued in 2001 as the lack of support for competitors especially beyond the junior level hindered development.

As the known and unknown countries of the English-speaking Caribbean made progress in international competition, Guyana's best showing for the year was no better than a semifinal finish at the World Championships through 400 metres specialist Aliann Pompey.

Only one Guyanese competed at this year's United States division one college meet, long regarded as the breeding ground of future world beaters.

However, 18-year-old 800 metres specialist Tai Payne showed some semblance of championship material by rapidly improving from a Junior Carifta Games silver to Whitsuntide Games gold and a creditable fourth place finish at the Pan Am Junior Championships in Argentina.

Ex Sportswoman of the year Marian Burnette made off with three gold medals at the U.S. division two college championships after bagging five at the indoor competition and earned a scholarship to Louisiana State University which will give her first division competition.

Locally Upper Demerara district retained the prestigious national schools title while world class Pamenos Ballantyne of St Vincent graced the Go Guyana Run Marathon with his presence and duly won on a course he later said was not correctly measured.

Table Tennis:
Increased exposure for the nation's top players proved inadequate as this country failed to make an impression at the Caribbean Championships in Barbados. The men placed 10th from 12 in the team competition in which this country's best player Sydney Christophe strangely did not play. The women were 5th out of nine and when Christophe eventually made an appearance he reached the men's individual quarterfinals, the best for Guyanese players.

Christophe lost the 2000 national title to Godfrey Munroe which was contested in January, his first loss in 13 years in the category, but came back to reclaim it later in the year in the 2001 competition.

A team from Trinidad and Tobago visited for a Goodwill series in which Christophe emerged men's individual champion and Lynda Pratap the women's equivalent.

The juniors were dethroned as team champions in the annual Barbados Goddard's championship where they won three individual titles through Chris Franklyn, Vida Moore and Zach Gonsalves.

They were also second to Venezuela in both the boys and girls team competitions in the Caribbean series.

Amateur boxing:
Efforts to place amateur boxing, one of Guyana's more popular sports of yesteryear, on a strong footing were helped by the presence of former Commonwealth welterweight champion Andrew Murray on the executive in 2001.

Murray who was elected vice president of the Guyana Amateur Boxing Association (GABA) said his intention is to build a strong foundation at the youth level and he started an intensive programme of training and competition for Under-16 pugilists.

However, much was left to be desired in development activities for the senior category of fighters who had to be content with competition only at the Caribbean Championships where Guyana won the senior title but were dethroned as the overall champions by Jamaica, in Grenada. The team brought home eight gold, four silver and four bronze medals while Yusuf Ali was crowned most outstanding fighter in the Under-16 category. The fighters however, had no other opportunity to show case their ability in other international competition as their counterparts from Jamaica, Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago did at the World Championships in Ireland.

There was little to shout about in domestic competition as financial constraints left the GABA impotent to do much.

The Guyana Rugby Football Union under new president Kit Nascimento dug deep in its human resources to lift the standard of the sport as opposed to recent years. More teams were exposed to inter national competition as Guyana participated in the World Cup regional preliminary competition, the Caribbean Sevens series, the Under-19 Caribbean Championship, the regional Under-16 competition and an Invitational Sevens competition in Trinidad and Tobago where the senior national team placed 6th out of 24 teams, winning five matches and losing three among regional national teams and clubs from Britain and North America. The latter performance was the best for any team overseas and it included teenager Elwin Chase and Troy Arjoon who were selected for the West Indies Sevens squad for an invitational competition in the Cayman Islands.

The players had the benefit of a one-week coaching stint by Scotsman Greig Oliver while Laparkan Hornets dominated the domestic competitions winning most of the competitions staged.

Considered one of the fastest growing sports in Georgetown and its environs, basketball did not receive the corresponding treatment from the administrators in 2001. There was a complete breakdown in activities by the Guyana Amateur Basketball Federation and the Georgetown ruling body. No tournaments were staged by the two bodies in 2001 and no teams representing the national body, played overseas as plans to compete at the Caricom junior championships fell through because of lack of funding.

It was left to Pepsi Sonics and Bounty Colts clubs to stage competitions for teams in Georgetown.

The Volleyball Federation tried hard to keep the sport on its feet but inadequate competition internationally for exposure, was a drawback.

The national team did compete in the South American Championships North Zone qualifying competition in Venezuela but could not get past the home team in a two-country competition to the next round. This decision to join the South American body for competition which is costly and provides less matches for the national team, must be viewed with some measure of skepticism, compared to being linked to the Caribbean body. Affiliation to the latter ruling body would be more economical and provides more exposure with teams which can give Guyanese players the type of exposure they need at their level presently.

In domestic competition, Defenders was the most outstanding team, winning among other tournaments the Scotia Bank and All Fours competitions. They were however, denied much needed exposure when the Inter Guianas series scheduled to be staged here was called off because the Suriname and French Guiana teams experienced last minute problems and could not travel.

Disappointingly, another year of dormancy was experienced in competition for national teams and it was left to Georgetown Cricket club to keep the Golden Arrowhead flying overseas as they played brilliantly to place second in the Pan American Club Championships in Barbados which featured teams from South America, North America and the Caribbean.

GCC won two matches, drew two and lost one to reach the final where they lost to top Colombian club Cordoba, who they drew with in the preliminaries in the most exciting game of the competition.

Prior to that accomplishment, GCC made light work of local competition in winning the Fanfan and Mendes league competition. They also dethroned Everest Hikers in the one-day indoor tournament and also carted off the Flora indoor title while Hikers won the Carib six-a-side competition.

Horace Steele created history for Guyana in bodybuilding by winning this country's first gold medal at the Central American and Caribbean champions when he whipped the field in the 175 pounds category, in Barbados.

Steele went on to compete at the World Championships in Myanmar formerly Burma but he was defaulted for being less than a pound overweight.

Prior to his CAC gold medal winning feat, Steele had dominated the Flex Night competition by winning the heavy and overall titles while Suzette Shepherd was the women's winner. In the Guyana Amateur Bodybuilding Association's championships, Steele took the 175-pound title and Geraldine Cox was the women's winner

The Guyana Japan Karate Association enjoyed one of its best ever participation at the Pan American championships when five juniors won 10 medals including four golds in an 11-person team also comprising seniors in Philadelphia United States.

Nadia Rohoman, Richard Rohoman, Krysten Sewett and Justin Jairam won one gold and a silver each while Jeremy Jairam picked up a silver and a bronze in the competition for competitors ranging between 15 to nine years old.

The performance was justification for the hard work put in by the Charles Woon-A-Tai led association whose youth programmes continue to reap dividends.

There was also good news from the Guyana Amateur Karate Association's through young Tony Durjan Jr who won a number of Under-10 titles in the United States.