2014 Luke Versace wins 7-man Open Gift final in photo finish, Holly Dobbyn takes Women’s Gift

Date: 23rd March 2022

2014 was notable for being a particularly even competition with no obvious stand out favourite for the Open Gift, even before the finals, and for providing some extremely close finishes. The 4th semi was declared a dead heat when a protest by John Adams was upheld by the Independent Protest Committee despite the judges’ unanimous view to the contrary. This resulted in a seven-man final.

Colourful Luke Versace, one of the great characters of professional foot running, who had shed 12 kgs since the previous Easter, just held on to win the final of the Open Gift from Gus Carty-Cowling by 0.005 of a second. 

Luke’s close finish was recorded as 12.268s off a mark of 10m with Gus’ time as 12.273 off 8.5m. John Adams came in 4th behind backmarker and 2008 Stawell Gift winner Sam Jamieson who was only another 0.02s behind the runner-up and only a split second away from being the 4th ever dual winner, with Ryan Camille 5th, Christoper Innes-Wong 6th and the historic 7th spot going to Isaac Dunmall.

The victory was even more incredible as Versace had been badly gored by a bull at the Running with the Bulls in Pamplona, Spain several years earlier. 

Versace, who together with his coach Bradley Armstrong had plotted this race as their target for 13 months, paid tribute to the hard work the pair had done to make this win possible.

“This would never have happened without Brad’s hard work – someone pinch me I’m a Stawell Gift winner!” Versace said post-race.

Then to round off a great weekend an hour after the Open Gift Final Luke’s 29-year-old coach Brad Armstrong was successful in taking out the Frontmarkers 400m final in 46.63s.

The local athletic community were celebrating after The Strickland Family Women’s Gift with the winner 17-year-old Holly Dobbyn and 3rd placed Kate Jones from Ballarat, and runner up Sarah Blizzard, also 17 years of age, from nearby Ararat.  

Champion Holly won in the fastest time recorded for the Women’s Gift – 13.13s. The region’s trifecta was impressive but this was all about Dobbyn, who was coached by Peter O’Dwyer and was swamped by a large POD Squad pack from the finishing gates until well after she collected her sash.

The proud trainer said he knew Dobbyn had the mental toughness to pull off a win on Australian professional racing’s biggest stage.

“When she hurt herself before the Ballarat Gift, Holly was devastated but we made her focus on Stawell and she never put a foot wrong,” O’Dwyer told the Ballarat Courier.

The Chris Perry Memorial Invitational was won by Paralympic world record holder Evan O’Hanlon in 12.59s, with Luke Stevens 2nd and Australia’s fastest woman Melissa Breen 3rd.

Two-time world hurdles champion Jana Pittman announced she would compete at the 2014 Stawell Gift as she launched her preparations for the 2016 Olympic Games. Fresh off her historic achievement of becoming the first Australian female to compete at both a Summer and Winter Olympic Games, Jana competed in the Lorraine Donnan 400m which was won by Celia Cosgriff in 52.87s with Anna Pasquali 2nd and Rachael Carnegie 3rd.  

2014 also marked the significant and unique achievement of Ken Greenberger who was congratulated on his 50 years’ service to the Stawell Athletic Club as an active committee member.

Nineteen-year-old Stawell runner Ashley Cowan was the popular winner of the Backmarkers 1600m on Saturday and he backed up again on Sunday to win the Novice 1600m. Ash is the youngest member of the Dalziel family which included his uncle Wayne, grandfather and committee member John and great grandfather Jack, who was also a past Stawell Athletic Club President.  All competed at Stawell many times.

Veteran runner Martin Horn ran strongly to take the honors in both the Arthur Postle 70m in 7.45s and the Veterans 100m in 11.25s.

One of the most impressive runs came from 14-year-old Tim Caldwell who won the Little Athletics 800m from scratch in the impressive time of 2.07s.

Tim Eschebach off 13m took out the Jack Donaldson 200m in 20.52s in front of Luke Houlihan and Cam Dunbar.

Dale Lyons took out the Bill Howard 100m in 10.76s off a mark of 6.5m followed by Jarrod Castagna and Tom Morehouse.

Samantha Lind won the Women’s 800m in 2.04.61s in front of Stephanie Mollica and Celia Cosgriff.

The Herb Hedemann 1600m Invitational was won by Chris Discombe in 3.59.01 off 70m, followed by Jack Davies also off 70m and Douglas Hammerlok off 75m.

 

                      

 

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