Paul Singleton – 40th anniversary of his Stawell Gift win

Date: 12th February 2024

We caught up with Powercor Stawell Gift Hall of Fame legend Paul Singleton in his hometown of Wamberal on the Central Coast of NSW as he looks back on his win in both the Open Gift and the Arthur Postle 70m finals in 1984, and reflects on the state of the sport of professional running.

Paul started his life in athletics running on the beach with Little Nippers in Kiama, winning his first state title at the age of 7. By 9 he had won his first Australian title, moving to the Central Coast and competing with Ocean Beach Surf Club Umina and then moving to Wamberal Surf Club as a senior beach sprinter.

It wasn’t until he joined the Air Force and was based in Williamtown near Newcastle that Paul was introduced to handicapped running.

“A colleague, Vince Cronin, was doing handicapped running while working with the Fire Brigade in Newcastle and he suggested I come and have a run with them, so that’s what I did, every Wednesday,” recalled Paul. It turned out he was quite fast, and Paul found himself under the guidance of coach Bob Gulliver (father of Bruce who still coaches in Newcastle before the Newcastle Gift was a thing) and slowly working his way to being the back marker of the group.

“I was really enjoying training with this great group so when they suggested I should run at Stawell I thought I would give it a try,” he said.

His focus was still on beach sprinting and three weeks before Easter 1983, Paul won the Australian Beach title again which turned out to hamper his plans for Stawell.

“Being a typical young bloke, I just celebrated and partied instead of getting ready for Stawell. I got on the grog and didn’t train for the next three weeks and just thought it would be alright.”

Even with the lack of preparation, Paul managed to come 2nd in the final of the 1983 Stawell Gift, beaten by Dallas O’Brien.

“Suddenly I was in the game and there was substantial money to be won ($16K). I was so disappointed; I think I would have rather been run out in the heats than come second. I thought, ‘you’re an idiot, you didn’t do anything for 3 weeks and came second and ran out of puff’. But the fire in me was kindled and that got me focussed.”

Paul admits he became single minded and focussed on winning Stawell the next year.

“There was a definite love of pro running in Newcastle after that year, given Bruce Gulliver also made the ’83 final and would have loved to have gone even better the following year.

 “I knew I had to improve as I would be pulled back. So, I had to get faster and be able to run better. I reconnected with my junior beach sprint coach, Peter Quick whilst still racing with Bob’s pro group once a week. I got off the grog , ate well and everything was about winning Stawell. From the day I lost to the day I won. It was about winning. And that worked.”

Paul recalled not realising the significance of the Powercor Stawell Gift in the sport of pro running until he first arrived at Central Park over 40 years ago.

“When you get there, you realise how important it is. You see people getting carried around and as a competitor you think: ‘I want to win that.’ And I wanted to win because I got beaten!”

Paul was among the first group of athletes with Chris Perry, John Dinan and others, to campaign for professional runners to be allowed to compete with the amateurs.

“Back in 1984 you couldn’t run for Australia so even if we were up there with the fastest runners we had to sit out. It was ludicrous because the amateurs were making more money than us anyway. It’s great now because you can do both.”

Paul went on to coach for many years and is still involved in his squad S Stable, as a mentor and friend who often travels with the group to events interstate.

“Handicapped running gives everyone the opportunity to win a race. Not everyone is going to represent Australia and not everyone’s going to win Stawell.  As a sport pro running suits a lot of athletes. We had a lot of success coaching and winning other Gifts, Stawell is obviously the pinnacle but there are plenty of others to win and do well at. As a sport it offers runners a lot.

“We met a lot of other squads, making friends as we’d travel down to Victoria from NSW and were treated well. We were fair dinkum, so we were treated with respect.”

S Stable is now under the guidance of Dan Sammut at Mingara Athletics Club. Dan won the Arthur Postle 70m last year, after originally joining Paul’s team to get fit and lose weight and now trains Paul’s son. 

“Coaching is such a commitment, so you need to have the time to put into it and your athletes.”

Paul will be going to Stawell this year, as like a lot of Stawell Gift past winners, the draw is strong and they enjoy returning to Central Park to catch up with old friends, relive the experience and enjoy the new activities on offer over the long weekend.  “You meet so many people on the journey. Unfortunately some of the older guys aren’t always going to be there, but that’s life.

“Jason ‘Richo’ Richardson does a great job with the Sash Club. He has a great style too. He’s got very polished. Good on him. He’s so positive.”

Paul believes the sport of professional running is in a good place and the future looks bright. 

The other events are the backbone of pro running. Going to other carnivals around Victoria I can see where it’s heading.

“I can see how the sport is transitioning. It’s no longer all about the Men’s 120m. The other events are really the backbone of pro running – the middle distance events, the Masters and Junior races – all contribute to the strengthening of numbers, both athletes and spectators.

“So many families are involved now and as many women competing as men now which is fantastic and helps increase the overall numbers and the interest.

“Equal prize money helped create the thirst to be involved, and now there are so many more women turning up. I reckon it’s great.”

Looking back 40 years Paul reminisced about the time it really was all about one race. He recalled 33 heats in 1984, last year there were 17.  “If you didn’t win your heat, you didn’t get through.” But he agrees the transformation into a total athletics carnival is positive.

“I’ve run at Australian Championships in the final, on the beach in the final and in a final at Stawell and there is nothing like Stawell – the crowds, the atmosphere, you can hear a penny drop before the start gun goes off in the final of the Stawell Gift. And that’s why it is still going.” 

“I went into the final thinking I could win. Rob Kirsopp was more favoured by the bookies, but he came second. He was out in front of me so I could see where he was, so I had a plan of attack to work up onto his shoulder then surge past him. I got a pretty good start, so I hit him hard and then changed tack and thought ‘bugger I’ll keep going.’ My plan of attack was out the window, so I just kept running hard and got over the line and won.”

In 1984, the 70m final was straight after the Men’s Gift final. The heats were on the Saturday for both and on Monday both the semis and finals were run.

“Someone said to me after the win “What’s next?” and I said “The 70m final!” Paul went on to win that too. 

His wins that year helped Paul in as much as he learnt the importance of setting goals, and working hard to achieve them.

“Sport teaches you the benefits of discipline, to set targets and achieve goals. As well as being part of Australian sporting history, the life skills I took away such as believing in yourself and following a path to achievement helped me.”

The prize money was helpful too, with Paul saying he took home around $20K over two years which in those days enabled him to get on the property ladder as a 21-year-old.


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