2017: Favourite Matthew Rizzo takes the Open Gift and Liv Ryan completes the double with the 70m

Date: 2nd April 2022

According to Stawell Athletic Club historian Murray McPherson who will celebrate 50 years on the committee next year, 2017 proved to be a particularly successful carnival with strong entries, beautiful weather and competitive racing on the track which resulted in the best attendance for 10 years.

“This proved to be the year of the teenagers,” said Murray. “Following his 5th placing in the previous year’s final, 18-year-old Matthew Rizzo stormed to victory to win the Powercor Stawell Gift in the time of 12.10s, and in the process marked himself as one to watch for possible future Australian representation.

“16 -year-old Liv Ryan had won the under 17 Girls 100m event 12 months earlier, but in 2017 she not only won the Strickland Family Women’s Gift but also the newly introduced Women’s 70m,” Murray recalled.

“Local runners enjoying success were 16-year-old Tom Walker who easily took out the Backmarkers 1600m, and 20-year-old Ararat runner and Stawell regular Sarah Blizzard was in the Women’s Gift final for the 4th year in succession.”

“Following 15 years of dedication to the Stawell Athletic Club, William Earle passed on the honour of being Club Patron to the colourful and enthusiastic 2014 Stawell Gift winner Luke Versace.”

Leading into the Carnival the only scratch runner in either the Open or Women’s Gift was the shortest priced favourite. Papua New Guinean athlete Toea Wisil had been given the opening odds of $3 for the Australia Post Women’s Stawell Gift, according to Stawell Gift veteran John Henry who had been helping the bookmakers at the Stawell Gift since 1979.

“After winning the Australian championships just the other week, she’s obviously in good shape despite her mark of scratch, so Toea starts favourite,” Henry said at the time. Other female athletes with low marks were Sophie Taylor, Maddie Coates, Mikayla Round and Anna Duncan.

Favourite for the Open Gift was Matthew Rizzo who started at $4 followed by Michael Romanin, Nathan Riali, Ryan Camille, Ryan McNamara and Thomas Maloney.

Matt Rizzo never looked in doubt off the mark of 7.5m, recording the fastest overall heat time on Saturday of 12.10. He then clocked 12.12 in his semi-final to confirm his favouritism for the final. He repeated his heat time win to take out the final in 12.10s, ahead of Nathan Riali and Kyle Grubnic, who had won the Arthur Postle 70m the day before. 4th place went to Michael Voumard, 5th to Michael Romanin and 6th to Andrew Campbell,

“I’ve been taught to sprint to get across that line first and that’s exactly what I did in the final,” said Matt after the race.

“Last year I wanted to win it so badly, but it didn’t happen, but this year’s win will honestly change my life, it’s a dream come true,” crediting the win to his support crew at work, home and at the track.

“This year I got a better support group, better training, better coach and more dedication. I met Matt Carter where I work at Bunnings and said I wanted to improve and win at Stawell,” he said of his Vikings squad trainer.

At the tender age of 16, Donvale’s Liv Ryan now had three Stawell sashes following her win in the 2016 U17 girls 100m. “Winning the double is amazing, I just had to focus after the gift and get down the track in the 70m, I’m thrilled,” she said.

Ryan created history by being the only athlete to finish third in her heat and to then come out and win the Gift.

“It was a fast heat and it wasn’t the perfect race, my heat run, and I just had to keep pushing through, the semi-final win gave me a massive confidence boost,” she declared.

Extraordinarily, first, third and fourth in the final all came from Heat 12 on Saturday, however the final order wasn’t repeated. Heat winner Taylor Perry finished fourth in the final, with backmarker Maddie Coates placing third. Bridget Powell was 2nd, Sarah Blizzard 5th and Lauren Wells 6th.

“I put everything to the back of my mind and thought I’ve got to run my race, who cares what people are thinking,” the Craig Mair trained athlete said. “As the front marker, I had to come out quick, not let them catch me, and get to the line first, is all that was going through my head. In the corner of my eye I could see the red (Coates) coming and I just had to hold on,” Ryan explained.

The Chris Perry Backmarkers Invitation was won by Tjimarri Sanderson Milera, with 2016 Gift winner Isaac Dunmall in 2nd and Toea Wizil took the 3rd place.              

Ryan Bedford won the Jack Donaldson 200m, ahead of Kendra Hubbard and Leigh Bennett.

Evan King won the Masters 100m, Anne Fiedler the Masters 300m and Jack Anderson the Bill McManus Backmarkers 400m,

Anna Pasquali took out the Lorraine Donnan Women’s 400m in a time of 50.96 and Zoe Nicholson the Women’s 800m.

Mitchell Cashion won the Herb Hedemann Invitation in a time 4.01.39 from Adrian McLean and Benjamin Buckingham. Cashion was also 3rd in the 3200m Handicap.

In the 1600m races, Tom Walker took the Backmarkers, Chris Dixon the Frontmarkers, Ky Davies the Restricted, and Richard McMahon the Women’s and Masters.

Brothers Jake and Darcy Ireland were 1st and 3rd in the U17 Boys 100m with Alex Tzicantonis victorious in the U17 Girls 100m.

For a full list of 2017 results see here:

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