Posted by Hopwood Wendy
Date: 9th April 2022
It was a shaky start to the season when the prestige of the Powercor Stawell Gift was under threat due to funding issues and the Stawell Athletic Club announced the prizemoney would have to be reduced. However, all was restored when the Club struck a deal with the Northern Grampians Shire Council and the Victorian State Government which ensured that the prizemoney for both winners would remain at $40,000, and that TV coverage would continue for the 138th running of the event.
For the first time in the history of the Powercor Stawell Gift, Maddie Coates had been given a mark of -1m for the Strickland Family Women’s Gift.
“I think it’s brilliant that Maddie is the first athlete to be allocated a mark behind scratch at Stawell. It’s a tremendous badge of honour.” said Tom Burbidge, CEO of the VAL. “Maddie is an exceptional athlete and we’ve enjoyed her success in the VAL in recent years. She has won numerous races in pro running whilst continuing to improve along the way, which ultimately has led to her mark at Stawell.”
Olympic sprinter and two-time Stawell Gift winner Josh Ross (2003/2005) would run off 2m in another attempt at a record making treble.
“I am extremely excited to be coming back to Stawell for another chance to create history by attempting to win my third Stawell gift, 16 years after my first win. We may not ever see someone take out three Stawell gifts in our lifetime, so this could be an extraordinary moment in Australian sporting history. As always, I’ll be there to win and to put on a show for my fans,” said Ross.
Reigning champion Jacob Despard, with 0.75m, was the backmarker for the men and quietly confident he could become only the second back-to-back winner of the Stawell Gift. “I’d comfortably say I’m the quickest guy in the field so I’m ready for the challenge. When I was younger as soon as the marks would come out, I’d always search through and see who the back mark was, I’d always look up to that person over the weekend. Now I am that person.”
Both from Melbourne, 20-year-old Dhruv Rodgrigues Chico won the Visit Grampians Stawell Gift, and 21-year-old Lexi Loizou won the Strickland Family Women’s Gift.
Motor mechanic Chico went into the final as the favourite, having the fastest time in the heats on Saturday of 11.912. Leonard King the powerhouse from Pyrmont in Sydney was second in 12.240 and third was Jason Bailey the frontmarker who ran 12.249 and had been an early favourite following his form all season. Lachlan Sheffield from Adelaide was fourth in 12.389, Queenslander Conor Loughnan was fifth in 12.408, and Jara Konteh the 19-year-old from Footscray was sixth in 12.680.
Dhruv said at the finish line: “It’s an indescribable feeling winning the Stawell Gift, I’ll let it sink in over the next few days then tell you how I’m feeling. I just had to keep telling myself – ‘don’t let it get to you,’ and in the end I had some time to ease up and savour the moment.”
Coach Tom Morehouse said Dhruv had shown great promise. “He does love to party a little bit and one of the reasons he’s really improved this season he put all that aside,” he said after the race.
Rodrigues Chico said he became focused on the Stawell Gift after winning the Hastings Gift six months earlier.
“After that I said let’s knuckle down, one race only,” he said. “The prizemoney means a lot but having the title and being a Stawell Gift winner is more important.”
Lexi Loizou, along with best friend and teammate from Matt Carter’s stable Fia Fighera took first and second in the Strickland Family Women’s Gift. Loizou clocked the fastest semi time of 13.78 and became the favourite to win the women’s title which she did in a blistering time of 13.579. Fighera’s time was 13.659.
“I am overwhelmed to win the Stawell Gift, it’s incredible, a dream come true,” the nursing student, who had a handicap of 5.75m, said.
“Fia is so strong, I knew she would be right on my tail so I had to go as hard as I could. We are rivals on the track, but it’s never like that off track. It’s always super close and we never let any competition affect our friendship which is so special.”
Bree Masters, the top beach sprinter from Queensland was third in a time of 13.882. “I was delighted to come third in my very first Stawell Gift, when all I came here to do was make the semis, what a great atmosphere,” said Bree.
Zoe Neale the 17-year-old was fourth, Hana Basic was fifth and Ebony Lane was sixth.
A highlight was the effort of the Olympic 400m hurdles runner Lauren Wells who took on the men to win the Jack Donaldson 200m event. Lauren was fresh from her success at the National Athletics Championships in Sydney where she had won her 12th title in the 400m.
It was also time to celebrate when Hall of Fame athlete Todd Ireland’s two sons both won events, Jake in the Backmarkers 400m and Darcy in the Bill Howard 100m.
This year Arthur Ince celebrated 50 years of competing at the Stawell Gift meeting. As he took off in the 100m Masters event he reflected on all those years including his first appearance at the famous Easter carnival in 1969, aged just 18 years.
“I am 68 years old now. I have always had a great passion to run at Stawell. The Stawell Gift is so special to me because of its great history. It is the equivalent of the AFL Grand Final, the ultimate of the season. Runners come from all around Australia and other countries to compete in this great event. There is a special atmosphere when you compete at Stawell in any event. Everyone wants to win a Final and it is the pinnacle of the season,” he said. A large group of Arthur’s family and friends made the trip to Stawell to cheer him on.
The Stawell Athletic Club invited ex-Stawell resident turned Race day fashionista Eliza Icke and her husband Brad to judge the 2019 Stawell Gift Fashions on the Field.
“I am absolutely delighted to join Mrs Joan McPherson (family friend of my late mother Cath Fraser) to return to Stawell and be part of the Fashions on the Field event which she has co-ordinated every Easter Saturday for the past 18 years,” said Eliza.
Other results included Harrison Hunt taking out the Chris Perry Memorial Backmarkers Invitational Handicap from Josh Ross and Cameron Searle.
Michael Hanna took the Arthur Postle 70m from Nicholas Antonino and Isaac Dunmall.
Stephanie Jinks won the Lorraine Donnan 400m from Gemma Fairclough and Meg Deane.
The Herb Hedemann 1600m Invitational went to Riley Bryce and the Backmarkers 1600m to Matthew Beaman. Sean Quilty took out the 3200m Handicap.
A delighted Tim Mason threw himself over the line to win the Masters 300m.
The Women’s and Masters Handicap 1600m went to Lauren McHugh.
On a sad note, head starter Maurice Campbell, who had started the last 12 Gift finals, died just over a month after Easter following a lengthy struggle with health problems. He was replaced as head starter by his experienced long-time assistant Ian Sibson.
Posted by Hopwood Wendy
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