Date: 27th March 2023

Stawell, VIC: The Victorian Athletic League has announced the handicaps for all athletes competing in this year’s Powercor Stawell Gift Carnival, held over Easter from Saturday April 8 to Monday April 10.  Athletes can find their handicaps here:

Over 675 athletes have been given handicaps in the events which comprise the prestigious Powercor Stawell Gift and the Change Our Game Womens Gift. The fields for the men’s and women’s 120m Gifts include a group from Australia and New Zealand’s best track athletes and pro runners, including Jake Doran, Eddie Nkeita (New Zealand), Jack Hale, Jacob Despard (2018 Stawell Gift winner), Dhruv Rodrigues Chico (2019 Stawell Gift winner), Bree Masters, and Mia Gross. The 1000m Invitational Women’s Handicap will see the likes of Abbey Caldwell, Catriona Bisset and Linden Hall together in front of a home crowd.

“It’s encouraging to see the high number of runners joining us for the grand finale of Australian professional running,” said Murray Emerson, Chair of Stawell Gift Event Management. “Thanks to our partnership with Athletics Australia we will have some of the top Australian and New Zealand track athletes lining up against an excellent field of professional runners again this year.”

Nketia will again run off the scratch mark in front of current Australian National 100m champion Doran at 0.5m; Hale and Rodrigues Chico are off 0.75m and Despard has been given 1.25m. With his mark and experience at running on grass in the 120m distance Despard could be only the 4th winner of two finals in the 141-year history of the Powercor Stawell Gift. 2017 champion Matt Rizzo is back in form and ready to join the exclusive doubles club.

Bree Masters, who came 3rd in the 2019 Women’s Gift will be off scratch and her 4x100m Commonwealth Games teammate Mia Gross will start at 0.25m. 2018 winner EJ Forsyth is back with a mark of 3.75m.  2019 winner Lexi Loizou is off 2.25m and 2021 victor Hayley Orman has been given 8.25m. Last year’s winners Harrison Kerr and Carla Bull have been pulled back to 2.5m and 2m respectively. 

2022 runner up Hamish Lindstrom is back 4.5m to a mark of 3m this year and admits it will be a challenge. “I knew it was gonna be a tough mark this year, we will see if my form can carry into Stawell.” Third placed Jesse McKenna is also back 4.5m to 1.75m and believes “that makes it a lot more interesting. I can do a lot from that mark, to be honest I enjoy being that far back.”

Other low handicapped track runners include Anas Abu Ganaba from Queensland who has been given 0.5m, and Indian sprinter Gurindervir Singh who will run off 1.25m.

Some of the favoured Change Our Game Women’s Gift pro runners include Grace O’Dwyer (2015 winner on 7m), Chloe Kinnersly (10m), Tiana Shillito (11m) and Halle Martin (11m) from the POD squad in Ballarat, Zoe Neale (5.5m), Ellie Keratianos (6m), Bella Pasquali (7.25m), Olivia Hastings (7.25m), Layla Watson (8.75m), Akshayer Iyer (9.75m), and the Queenslanders Olivia Matza (2.75m) and Chloe Mannix Power (3.75m). 

2017 Womens Gift winner Liv Ryan has been given a handicap of 7.75m and believes it will be a hotly contested womens final this year. “A couple of interstaters are looking good – Ebony Newton (7.25m) and Olivia Hastings, and there’s always a Viking that Robbo (Brett Robinson) has ready to go. And then the scratch markers will definitely be right in it with how quick they are running at the moment! I would love to give it a crack again but I think with this season has panned out injury wise its unlikely, I’ll just be happy to be out there running and anything more is a bonus.”

Grace O’Dwyer says she is happy with her progression and improvement this season and “it would be a privilege and a dream to be the first woman since prize money parity to win twice.”

The highly rated professional runners competing in the Powercor Stawell Gift include Jack Lacey (9m) , Jerome Lugo and Nick Antonino (both off 8.75m) from the stable of last year’s winning coach Nick Fiedler.  Harrison Kerr said: “It would be great to have the three-peat and bring home the choccies. The team has been moving better each week and have been great to train and develop with.

“I believe that anyone has the chance to make the final, especially those competing at the top level who have prepared themselves correctly. Whether this be VAL professionals such as Saye Morris (5m) , Isaac Dunmall (2016 Stawell Gift winner off 6m) and Endale Mekonnen (8.25m), or track athletes like Nketia, Doran, Despard, Hale and others.”

Team Fiedler stablemate and 2021 Powercor Stawell Gift winner Ed Ware agrees that Antonino and Lacey have great chances, and Morris and Mekonnen are “very much at the top of the market.”

“Overall, it looks like an extremely competitive year where I expect a blanket finish in the final. It wouldn’t surprise me to see previous winners and multiple finalists Dunmall and Rizzo line up in the final,” said Ed.

Jacob Despard believes he’ll be competitive and a chance but rates Saye Morris or Eddie Nketia to take the crown.

Dhruv Rodrigues Chico predicts Nketia, Rizzo, world junior representative Ryan Tarrant off 4.5m, Saye Morris, Isaac Dunmall and Endale Mekonnen will line up for this year’s Powercor Stawell Gift final. “Eddie ran 12.27 off scratch last year and is in the best form of his life. He’ll be fresh after skipping nationals, and has proven he can run on grass. 

“Saye Morris is a very strong starter. Isaac knows how to cope with the pressure on Easter Monday, and Matt will be very competitive and looking to make his fourth Stawell Gift final. My pick to win though is Morris, just ahead of Nketia in his final race ever.”

Matt Rizzo agrees it’s a strong year with a lot of athletes close together in ability and marks. And he also rates Lacey, Mekonnen and Dunmall but adds Brett Robinson trained Matthew Currie (8m) to that list. “Don’t discount the amateurs as Eddie Nketia and Jake Doran will be flying home late.”

Rizzo has had a strong season after moving to Newcastle to train with Bruce Gulliver and the likes of (highly rated) Jasper Thomas (5.5m), Jack Newman (8m) and Hugh Sharman (6.5m). “Stawell has been my focus all season. Twelve months ago I was going to walk away from the sport altogether. I’ve been working hard to make sure I leave no stone unturned and I come into Stawell fit and ready to run.”

He’s “extremely happy” with his mark of 3.75m and said: “Even though it’s a tight mark I know if I put my best foot forward come Easter and execute each of my rounds over the weekend, I’ll give myself the best opportunity to line up in another Stawell Gift final.”

Tamsyn Lewis Manou said: “The excitement levels step up a notch when the Stawell handicaps are released. This year the line-up is full of talent so picking a winner is going to be difficult. If I have to choose though I’m going with a pair that would be a great yarn for Gift folklore. My pick is the loved up speedy duo of Matt Rizzo and Bree Masters. Bring on Easter Monday!!”

The 2023 Powercor Stawell Gift carnival will take place from April 8-10, at Central Park, Stawell.  Easter Sunday is Family Day with a host of activities happening for the kids on and off the track and admission is free for under 12’s. The finals of the Strickland Family Women’s Gift and Powercor Stawell Gift and other races are broadcast live and free on Seven from 11.30am AEST on Easter Monday April 10, 2023 and across all three days of the carnival on 7+.

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