TWO Gwent sporting heroes were honoured at the annual Sport Wales Coach of the Year awards in Cardiff last night.
Newport cycling supremo Neil Smith, the man who helped put Paralympic gold medallist Mark Colbourne on track for London 2012 success, took the performance development coach of the year title.
And Melissa Anderson, the driving force behind the Valleys Gymnastics Academy in Crumlin, picked up the volunteer of the year award.
As well as his work with Newport Velo Youth Cycling Club, Smith became actively involved in the Disability Sport Wales Academy programme seven years ago.
The scheme offers specialist coaching to identified individuals to train in paracycling. After first meeting Tredegar’s Colbourne at Rookwood Hospital following a paragliding accident that saw him break his back, Smith re-introduced him to cycling by means of stabilisers. Progress was rapid and saw Colbourne win gold and two silver medals at the Paralympic Games in London this summer.
Anderson is the managing director and head coach of Valleys Gymnastics Academy. The facility began with a membership of less than 100 and this has grown to approximately 650, with hundreds of children looking for places since the Olympics.
She oversees the day-to-day running of the club and manages a paid and volunteer staff of over 40 people.
All on top of a full-time job, she also coaches and has set up a Millennium Volunteers project that has produced 20 new young leaders.
The overall coach of the year title went to legendary swimming coach Billy Pye, whose team of Swansea Performance Centre swimmers returned from the Paralympics with an impressive haul of 11 medals, including two golds and two world records, to make up nine per cent of the ParalympicsGB total.
Pye also pipped Warren Gatland and Anthony Hughes to the performance development coach of the Year accolade.
However, there was special recognition for Gatland and his national rugby coaching team for their Six Nations Grand Slam triumph.
Lifetime achievement awards were handed out to Clive Barsi MBE of Penydarren Boys and Girls Football Club in Merthyr, Alun Mummery of Llanfairpwll FC and to Denbigh Golf Club’s Bruce Carlyle.
Other winners included Tim Newhouse, the North Wales cricket coach who started a women’s club from scratch to win community coach of the year.
Swansea’s Ainsley Richards picked up the young volunteer of the year title for her tireless work in 2012.
The first ever sporting partner of the year is Capel Curig-based The Outdoor Partnership, while Rhyl’s Mike Hayes picked up the award for top coach to disabled sportspeople.
Inspirational Aaron Evans took the prize as the young coach of the Year for his football work with young people in Denbighshire.
For his work in training young leaders at schools across Caerphilly, Neil Roberts picked up the contribution to coach development.
Emphasising the importance of coaches to Welsh sport, Welsh Government funding helps Sport Wales invest around £5 million each year in grassroots and elite coaching.
For more information on coaching and volunteering in Wales, and the awards, visit www.sportwales.org.uk.