2010 A year of controversy

Date: 9th March 2022

2010 A year of controversy     

The 2010 pro running pre-season was marked by a series of events which nearly saw the Stawell Gift moved to Ballarat until then Victorian Premier John Brumby announced: “under no circumstances will the Stawell Gift be leaving Stawell.” 

This was much to the relief of the Stawell Athletic Club and community. The 2010 Stawell Gift continued with government support and the “Save the Stawell Gift” supporters group putting up a car as a gate prize for Easter Monday. However, that year the event was not without controversy on the track too. 

Eyebrows were raised at the slow heat times on Easter Saturday but the reason soon became evident when it was confirmed that the track was 3.2 metres too long.

The VAL stewards thoroughly studied the video tapes on Saturday night and any runner in either the Gift or the Woman’s Gift who was perceived to have been disadvantaged was put straight into the semis. This resulted in five runners advancing, although World Pole Vault Champion Steve Hooker was forced to withdraw as the result of a minor injury.

Early on Sunday morning Committee members shifted the finishing gates 20 cm and brought the start up three metres and the Gift went on as normal.

The winner of the 2010 Open Gift was Tom Burbidge who won easily off a mark of 8.75m in 12.01.  However, Tom had to forfeit $5000 of his $40000 prize money as the stewards saw fit to fine him for unsatisfactory performances at the lead up meetings. Runner up was Dale Woodhams who also took out the Arthur Postle 70m and 3rd was Douglas Greenhough.

Coach Matt Beckenham, who had another athlete in the final in 18-year-old Brendan Matthews, was ecstatic with his charge’s victory and was unfazed about the $5,000 VAL fine.

“I am impressed with how Tom handled himself.  I knew if he held it together he was going to be very hard to beat,” Beckenham said. “It’s a steep fine, but I guess there are rules and regulations that you have to deal with.  The difficult thing we have with Tom is that he is more than likely going to be inconsistent with his performance because of his ongoing back injuries.”

The Sydney Olympic 400m hurdler, one of the country’s most successful young coaches, had a total of six athletes in the semi-finals in 2010.

In a thrilling finish to the Strickland Family Women’s Gift, Ballarat’s Jacqueline Watt (12.25m) held off a late charge from backmarker Kendra Hubbard (4.25m) to win in 14.01 seconds. 30-year-old Watt blasted past the fancied Queenslander Seleena Roberts in the first 30m and went on to claim a long-awaited victory. Former Great Britain representative Melanie Purkiss (5m) was third.

Watt was thrilled that her return to the sport had resulted in the ultimate prize. “After having twelve years off I came back to the sport because I wanted this – the Women’s Gift at Stawell and today I have got it.  It has been a lot of hard work but it’s paid off,” Watt said.

In the Lorraine Donnan Women’s Handicap 400m, Amanda Crook (17m) snuck through on the inside of a tightly bunched field with 30m to go to hit the tape in 52.35s whilst Andrew Challis, 20 from Geelong took out the Bill McManus Backmarkers 400m in 46.01 seconds in a thrilling finish from Kew’s Sebastian Purcell.

Jacob Groth, one of Australia’s top sprinters needed every inch of the 120m track to gather in early leaders but emerged victorious in 12.66s in the Backmarkers 120m. 

2009 Stawell Gift Winner Aaron Stubbs, in his third race of the day, was a clear winner of the Gift Winner’s Gift which brought together the winners from each of the state’s top footraces. Stubbs won in 12.34s.

Canberra’s Kale Symons (40m) played a patient waiting game before kicking to victory in 3 minutes 59.67s in the concluding stages of the Herb Hedemann 1600m Invitation to defeat a quality field that included Commonwealth Games hopeful Brenton Rowe (15m) and scratch-marker Beijing Olympian Mitch Kealey.

There were a number of encouraging performances from younger runners that year, in particular Darren Naismith stood out with his wins in both the Front markers 400m and the 550m.

Story adapted from extracts from Murray McPherson, Stawell Athletic Club Committee Member and Stawell Gift Historian.

Photos courtesy of The Stawell Times News

 

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