2011 Qld beach sprinters reign, world class runners and Ricky Dunbar returns

Date: 11th March 2022

In 2011 for the first time the Open and Women’s Gift finals at Central Park were run on the Tuesday as a result of Anzac Day falling on Easter Monday.

The Stawell Athletic Club had assembled a number of class athletes to compete including the 2003 100m World champion Kim Collins from the tiny Caribbean nation of St Kitts & Nevis.  Also running were Australian champions Craig Mottram, Lauren Boden, Melissa Breen and Tamsyn Lewis, and for the first time a group of distance runners from Kenya.

The winner of the Open Gift was 19-year-old Queensland beach sprinter Mitchell Williams, who carried a suspect hamstring into the final. Dramatically he tore his hamstring five metres from the finish, but his momentum and courage enabled him to hang on for victory.  Mitchell won in a time of 12.18 off a mark of 6.5m, with 2021 champion Ed Ware in 2nd place and Andrew McCabe in 3rd place.

It was a nervous wait for Mitch’s coach Brett Robinson, a two-time finalist and runner-up in 2006, after earlier watching his charge storm through to the final with a dominating semi-final performance.

“It was much easier being an athlete in control of the situation than being a coach where you are just a spectator for that last hour or so. I felt like I was going to vomit,” said Robinson.

The Strickland Family Women’s Gift was won by three-time world beach flags champion Melissa Howard from the Gold Coast in 13.9 off 9.5m, just ahead of Lauren Boden and Sophie Taylor.

“How exciting. I just wanted to have a good start and get down that field as fast as I could. The feeling is just amazing. To get up is so good,” said Howard after the final.

Five-time Australian 400m hurdles champion Lauren Boden (3.75m) was expected to win after qualifying fastest from the semi-final but found the 5.75m headstart too much to make up and had to settle for second. Sixteen-year-old Victorian 100m open champion Sophie Taylor (4m) finished third.

Another highlight from the absorbing last day came from the Kenyan Collins Cheboi who took out the Herb Hedemann Back Markers 1600m from scratch in 3.56.68, in what was then the fastest 1600m ever run at Stawell     

Back marker Alice Platten won her second Lorraine Donnan Women’s 400m in 2011 while 71-year-old former Scottish Champion Ricky Dunbar won the Veterans 100m after having previously won the same event 31 years earlier.

Bay Sheffield victor Jordan Caldow (0.25m) was too good for Maryborough Gift winner Matt Carter (scratch) and Woodside Gift champion Matthew Hargreaves (2.75m) in the 120m Gift Winners’ Gift.

Perennial finalist Todd Ireland celebrated a long sought-after win in the Jack Donaldson 200m in 20.62s.  Running off the front mark of 23m, the three-time Stawell Gift finalist held on from Tim Eschebach (13m) who was forced to start two metres further back from that mark after breaking, and Stawell legend Rodney Mathews (18m).

For the first time Little Athletics Victoria events were included in the program for those runners who had qualified at earlier competitions with these events proving to be very popular with the crowds.

Seven famous runners were inducted into the Stawell Athletic Club Hall of Fame in 2011:

Chris Fisher was the Australian 1500m champion and Olympic representative. He won the Backmarkers Invitation at Stawell in 1975, the Energy Mile Handicap in 1978 and the Herb Hedemann again in 1980 all from scratch.

John Hirst, son of the highly respected Monty Hirst, was a successful trainer with 18 Stawell victories including his brothers Tony and Dean Paulin who have both been inducted into the Hall of Fame. John also trained 16 seconds and 17 thirds.

Des Howe won the Stawell Handicap/Wimmera Handicap double in 1951. He followed up in 1952 by winning the Backmarkers Invitation Mile and won his fourth race in 1955 when he again won the Backmarkers Invitation Mile, the same year that he ran second in the Federation Mile.

Bill Mitchell The legendary South Melbourne Football Club head trainer was renowned as a sports therapist with many of Australia’s top sportsmen seeking his assistance to overcome their injuries. Bill was also a successful athletics coach with his record at Stawell standing at 17 wins, nine seconds and six thirds.

G T Robertson Tommy Robertson served as SAC president 4 times in 1895/6, 1910/11, the 1926/27 Jubilee year and finally in 1936/37. It was Robertson’s strong leadership which saved the club during the crisis years of the late 1890’s as the troubled club made a number of wise decisions including moving the venue to Central Park. Such was the club’s gratitude that he was offered a Life Membership which he declined, but eventually accepted in 1924.

Jim Reynolds There have been few more successful trainers at Stawell than Jim Reynolds who is best remembered as the coach of Stawell Legend Harry Downes. Altogether he coached 26 winners, 16 seconds and 17 thirds.

Len Templar The veteran Ballarat trainer finally achieved his ambition when he guided Rod Matthews to victory in the 1999 Gift final. Previous success had narrowly eluded him with Evan King’s second in 1997 being the best of his four final appearances. So far Len has coached 16 Stawell winners as well as 10 seconds and 13 thirds over all distances.


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