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Minister Grange speaks out at Birmingham dinner

SPEECH: Olivia Grange

JAMAICA’S ELITE athletes had a heroes’ welcome in Birmingham as they met guests during a fund raising dinner attended by Olivia Grange, the minister for Youth, Sports and Culture.

The evening raised well over £15,000 that will go towards supporting the athletes in 2012 and beyond, helping to hold Jamaica’s position as the sprint capital of the world.

Sprint star Asafa Powell, fresh from running the fastest 100 metres this year at Lausanne’s Diamond League meeting, looked relaxed as he was photographed with guests and other team mates including Michael Frater, Rosemarie Whyte, Andrew Hinds and Novlene Williams-Mills.

Hosted by BBC Radio WM’s Phil Upton, the evening’s speakers also included David Moorcroft, the last non-Ethiopian to hold the world record for the 5,000 metres, and Howard Aris, Jamaica’s Amateur Athletics Association (AAA) president who said Birmingham was making ‘a home from home’ for his 2012 track and field team.

Birmingham will be their home in the crucial days leading up to next year’s Olympics when they make their training base in the city.

More than 200 guests attended the dinner at the Crowne Plaza Hotel where the athletes were staying before the Diamond League event at Birmingham’s Alexander Stadium.

Organised by Birmingham City Council and the Birmingham Association of Jamaican Nationals, the evening gave guests from the wider Jamaican diaspora and supporters the chance to bask in the glory of Jamaica’s great athletic achievements so far.

The Hon Olivia Grange, affectionately known as Babsy, praised Birmingham for giving the athletic team such a family welcome.

She said: “As we say in Jamaica ‘mi heart full.’ And she went on to speak of her pride at how Jamaica ‘a dot in the world’s oceans’ continues to produce such world-class athletes.

ALL SMILES: Howard Aris, President of Jamaica Amateur Athletic Association, Beverly Lindsay OBE, OD, Chairman of the Association of Jamaican Nationals (Birmingham) UK, and Asafa Powell

“Today, no other country can boast to ever have nine men at the same time running under ten seconds in the 100 metres, with times which rank in the fastest 12 times ever.

“In addition, no other country has ever had at the same time control of all the global titles in the men’s 100 metres: the World Championships, the Olympics, World Youth Olympics, World Youth Games and World Junior Games, the latter achieved by young Odail Todd earlier this week.

“No other nation, apart from the US, has produced as many male Olympic sprint medallists since Jamaica started competing at the Olympic Games in 1948. In fact, on a per capita basis Jamaica is second to none.”

She also praised the country’s female athletes led by Veronica Campbell-Brown who continue to blaze a similar trail.

Ms Grange explained how Jamaica’s inter schools’ athletics programmes and the Jamaican Boys’ and Girls’ Championships continue to be ‘the marvel of the world,’ remaining the crucible of how athletics has been forged in Jamaica.

And she praised the ‘plethora of first class athletic coaches’ who have helped the country to collect 57 Olympic medals, including 14 gold, over the past 60 years.

DRESSED FOR THE OCCASION: George Ruddock, Managing Director of GV Media, Paulette Simpson, Chief UK representative of the Jamaica National Building Society and Howard Aris, President of the Jamaica Amateur Athletic Association

But she added that none of this would have been possible without the support of Government agencies such as the Institute of Sport, the Social Development Commission and Insports, where up to 80 per cent of elite athletes have come through that programme at junior level.

She singled out Howard Aris, the president of Jamaica’s AAA, explaining how his dynamic, world-renowned leadership had brought the current clutch of athletes so far.

And, on the eve of Jamaica’s 50th anniversary of Jamaican independence, she quoted Marcus Garvey, saying: “There is a world of opportunity awaiting us and it is for us to reach out and play our part on the great human stage of activity – and show the world we are equals in industry, commerce, education, politics . . . and cause our children to call us blessed.”

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