Young winner Meilutyte raises the bar in city sport
RUTA MEILUTYTE winning The Herald's Young Sports Personality prize was given a ringing endorsement by fellow Olympian and Plymouth Leander team-mate Antony James.
Lithuanian swimming sensation and Plymouth College scholar Meilutyte had been unable to make the 11th annual Herald prize-giving due to illness.
But the women's Olympic 100m breaststroke champion's presence loomed large in her absence, with even The Herald's overall victor, diving superstar Tom Daley, tipping his hat in admiration to the 15-year-old.
Leander's James, who like Meilutyte made his Olympic debut at London in the summer, was not one bit surprised at his team-mate being an influence and inspiration to other athletes.
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He said: "Knowing Ruta I think she'd be simply overwhelmed at the attention and the warmth of feeling towards her from people in Plymouth.
"She came over to Plymouth to train, learn and improve under (Leander coach) Jon Rudd and has made great strides on all fronts.
"She's a great person to train with, is a good person full stop and is disciplined and will do whatever it takes to get to the next level.
"Ruta has raised standards for all of us in the short time she has been here.
"She thoroughly deserves this award and I know she'll be proud."
Another category winner was Plymouth's Rory Warlow, who was named Amateur Sports Personality of the Year.
The champion skeet shooter was one of three Olympians in another extremely competitive category and like Meilutyte was unable to receive his award in person.
However, from New Zealand where he is holidaying, the 22-year-old tweeted: "Just found out I won The Herald Amateur Sports Personality of the Year award last night.
"It was nice news to wake up to.
"A massive thank you to everyone who nominated me and my sincere apologies for not being able to attend the awards."
Plymouth Leander chief Jon Rudd beat off strong competition, in particular from his diving counterpart at the Life Centre, Andy Banks, to win Coach of the Year.
Rudd, a winner of this category as far back as 2003 and more recently in 2010, dedicated the award to his swimmers and fellow coaches.
He confirmed that the standard 'across the board in all sports' was the highest in the 11-year history of The Herald awards.
Rudd said: "It has got to have been the highest calibre of candidates there has ever been, to be honest with you.
"There's a guy over there (Plymouth Diving's Banks), who won an Olympic medal and he hasn't won.
"That just shows you the standard of coaching in the city at this moment.
"For me, winning means I've received an award which says I've done a good job and that is pleasing.
"I do have a massive part to play in it (Leander's success) but there's a great team of wonderful people involved.
"What makes Plymouth Leander and Plymouth College a success are my assistant coaches, particularly Lindsay Dunn, and others who all play a massive part in what we do and what makes us successful."
Fittingly, given the venue, the Team of the Year and Outstanding Contribution awards were slam dunks for the city's brilliant basketball team.
Plymouth Raiders took the team gong, while one of the outfit's founders and commentator on gamedays – at the Pavilions – Keith Mollard claimed the 'unsung hero' category.
Raiders coach Gavin Love said: "It's a terrific honour. I'm delighted for everyone connected with the club. It is a reward for all the hard work we've put in.
"It's always a great evening here at The Herald awards, whether you win or not. It brings people in Plymouth together from all different sports."
Mollard, who is well known for being a seasoned pro whose calm and assured manner in front of the mic amid frantic scenes during play in the BBL at the Pavilions, was suddenly struggling to find the words.
The 76-year-old admitted as much and said: "This award has come as a complete surprise to me.
"You don't expect to win something like this when you get to my age – you're normally past all that.
"It's an honour and one I'm delighted to get. It's made a great evening all the more enjoyable."
Another category winner 'stunned and amazed' at receiving an award was Dave Desforges of South Hams Taekwondo Club.
The martial arts outfit won Community Club of the Year and founder and coach Desforges was still numb shortly afterwards when interviewed at his table with his son, also called David.
"It's phenomenal – I wasn't expecting this at all – none of us were," said Desforges clutching the 2012 award.
"I thought it was great being nominated but didn't think for one minute we'd end up winning it.
"This has come out of the blue and is a great boost for the club and our players and members.
"We've got a lot of tournaments coming up in the New Year, so we won't be lacking for inspiration."
Plymothians, Team GB's Paralympic table-tennis talent Dave Wetherill and new British cycling star Jon Tiernan-Locke both expressed their pleasure at winning Champagne Moment and the Rob Daley Award, respectively.
The 22-year-old Wetherill from Torpoint, whose shot at this summer's Games turned into a six-million strong hit on YouTube, said he hadn't expected the win.
"I wasn't expecting this at all – I'd come just to enjoy the evening," said Wetherill.
"To be honest I didn't even think the clip of my shot, with the ball going one way and me and my crutch going the other, would be even on the film.
"To win the category against so many others is a massive honour for me."
Tiernan-Locke said winning the award 'means an awful lot to me in my home town'.
"I'd like to thank everyone for nominating me and want to share it with my parents who have supported me in my career," he said.
"I'd like it to help inspire me into doing well over the next couple of years and making racing more popular in this city and the people of Plymouth proud of me."