History weighs on runners in time-honoured sprint
By Michael Gleeson
April 9, 2012
JOHN Wiltshire never won the Stawell Gift. He was in the best form of his life in 1958 and the bookmakers liked his chances, but in the heats he pulled a hamstring.
He came back to Stawell in subsequent years but never got as close again.
Today his grandson Matthew stands where his granddad, ''Wirey'', stood in 1958. He is rated second favourite to win the gift.
''It was the best I had run since I turned pro and we fancied I had a bit of a show in the Stawell Gift final but, unfortunately, I pulled a bit of a hamstring when I was running the best of my life in the 75 yards [68.58 metres] as it was in those days, in the heat, and I couldn't go on with it unfortunately,'' 80-year-old Wiltshire reflected after watching his grandson win his heat in 12.21.
''That was the fastest I ever ran. I got to the semis here a couple of times and I got a second, a third and a fourth in the 100 yards but I couldn't win that - second third and fourth.
''Our eldest son Stephen won the backmarkers 400 here, so he has a Stawell sash, and Matty won the Bill Howard [Handicap] last year, so he has a Stawell sash, and their poor old grandfather is fastest of the lot of them and he has got nothing.''
After a lifetime of kitchen table stories of how fate had dealt with his granddad, Matthew Wiltshire is racing with an extra burden.
''It puts a bit more pressure on that you want to win for your grandpa and get the big Stawell sash. It makes you want it a bit more,'' said the Ballarat runner who bookmakers have at $3 to win, just behind Josh Tiu at $2.25
Aaron Stubbs is one of the runners who will have a say in whether he can honour the family commitment. The 2009 Gift winner is drawn in the same semi as Wiltshire.
Stubbs was not entered to run until mid-week when on a whim he decided to have a go. He had been setting himself for the 100 at the national titles in Melbourne on Friday but his summer track form had been poor and he figured he could gain some confidence with a good performance on the grass.
''I am a way better athlete now than in 2009. I am so much fitter and faster now it is just a matter of executing. When I won it last time I was 18 years old and you are pretty much bulletproof when you are 18. It is just a matter of executing and I think the gift is mine,'' said Stubbs, who ran 12.29.
Another former winner Adrian Mott made it through to the semi finals today and likewise feels his proven ability to handle the pressure in the final could be decisive.
''Once in the finals there are many stories of people doing their silks up a little bit too tight around the collar aren't there? Once you are in the final it's another ball game,'' he said.
Mott said he was banking on Jamaican star Michael Frater not being at his best.
''If he is in the sort of shape he is in at an Olympic Games he will give everyone a cold as he goes past everyone, so I am praying on the fact he is a bit out of shape. I don't think he has run that much this season so to get him at his worst is a good time for us,'' he said.
Peter O'Dwyer, the 45-year-old running his 25th consecutive Gift but has never won, ran an impressive wind adjusted 12.28.