2018 Despard takes the Open Gift, EJ Forsyth the Women’s and Josh Ross is back to make history

Date: 6th April 2022

There was much anticipation when it was announced that dual Open Gift winner Joshua Ross would run in the 2018 Stawell Gift after an absence of five years. In recognition of his extraordinary achievements at the event Ross would also be inducted into the Stawell Hall of Fame as a Legend at the Calcutta on Friday evening.  No sprinter had achieved three wins in the historical carnival final in its 137 year history. 

“The Stawell Gift is one of my greatest achievements, and a highlight of my career that I’m very proud of.  I hold the Stawell Gift close to my heart, and I speak for many Australians when I say that the Stawell Gift is much more than just a 120m race, it’s an exciting cultural event that has become a part of me and runs through our blood. I’m extremely honoured that in my life I was a part of its rich history,” said Josh at the ceremony.

“I’m more well known for my success at Stawell than my seven national titles and two Olympic finals, that’s how special the Stawell Gift is within the Australian community.”

Twenty-one-year old Jacob Despard became only the fourth Tasmanian to win the Powercor Stawell Gift in 2018 and Gold Coast beach sprinter Elizabeth Forsyth, also 21, powered to victory in the Women’s Gift.

Originally Despard had lived with top sprinter Jack Hale and represented Australia at junior level, but a love of fast food and a beer with his mates had seen their careers go in different directions. However, that all changed with his move to Melbourne where he once again moved in with Hale and carefully followed his example of diet, lifestyle and how he prepared for big events.

Despard went into Monday’s final as the favourite, having the fastest time in the heats on Saturday of 12.214s, 12.236s in his semi to hold off US hurdler Devon Allen and eventually taking out the final in a time of 12.121s. Hamish Adams was second in 12.212s and third was Gary Finegan in 12.295s.  Reigning champion Matt Rizzo, despite the 2nd fastest time in the heats, was a valiant fourth. Mason Keast and Brendan Matthews took the other placings.

Jacob’s coach at the time Scott Rowsell said: “We put a plan in place but in the short time we’ve had together we have achieved a big goal, Jacob puts 100% into everything both on the track and away from the track, he has risen to the challenge of a hard-working environment.”

Talking about his winner’s cheque Jacob said: “I just moved out of home and that’s a big expense, I’ll save some, but I love cars, so I might put a bit of money into my car. This is the 6th time I’ve been to Stawell. I was originally in the team when Andrew Robinson won and that fired me up, then in 2015 I made the semis but lost to Murray Goodwin who went on to win.  So, for me, this is a fantastic next step in my athletics career. I’m going to come back every year.”

Pint sized elite beach sprinter Elizabeth ‘EJ’ Forsyth nearly blew her chances of winning with a poor run in her heat in which she ran third and only advanced to the semis as one of the fastest losers. She had started well but relaxed in the middle of her race and couldn’t get going again. Her change of tactics when she once again nailed the start and then went flat out with the plan to hang on to the finish paid immediate dividends when she easily won both her semi and the final.

Forsyth, who is more used to running on sand than grass, stormed home to win the Women’s Gift in a time of 13.685s. Second was Pam Austin with a time of 13.964 and third was Stephanie Jinks in 13.971, fresh from her victory in the Women’s Handicap 70m on the Sunday.  Anna Pasquali was 4th and a dead heat was recorded for 5th place with Amie Mittiga and Ebony Lane.

“I can’t believe it, I really didn’t think it would happen,” EJ said. “I am beyond happy to be the Stawell Gift winner, it is the greatest achievement of my athletics career so far and I imagine it may just be for the rest of my life!”

The sports science student at Griffith University was on her second trip to Stawell. EJ’s coach Brett Robinson, who had previously succeeded with Matt Rizzo and Murray Goodwin, said: “To her credit, she delivered the race she needed to deliver – a lot of people come to Stawell in good form and walk away with donuts. She’s an incredible athlete and her preparation has been meticulous.”

In the popular Chris Perry Backmarkers Invitational Handicap 120m Mia Gross, Kendra Hubbard and Sarah Blizzard were pitted against the men, with Devon Allen taking the win in style off scratch from Michael Romanin and Mitchell Williams. Newly inducted Stawell Athletic Club Legend Josh Ross placed fourth.
Meg Deane came home to win the Lorraine Donnan Women’s 400m while the Herb Hedemann Invitation Handicap 1600m was won by Matthew Tonge. 

Leigh Phelan won the Jack Donaldson 200m and Tom Griffin took the Bill Howard 100m and Todd Ireland won the Hank Neil Masters 100m.

For a full list of 2018 winners and placegetters see here: https://www.stawellgift.com/on-the-track/results-2018/


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