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PROTRACK » GENERAL » Stawell Snippets in the Age

Stawell Snippets in the Age

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1 Stawell Snippets in the Age on Mon Apr 18, 2011 12:53 pm



Stawell Gift snippets
By Melissa Ryan
The Age
April 17, 2011

1. From scratch
IT ALL started in 1878, when farmer Bill Millard - who had, as legend has it, trained by chasing kangaroos - won the inaugural event and prize money of £20. But the handicap race's greatest moment remains the flying dash of the ''Malagasy magician'', Madagascar's Jean-Louis Ravelomanantsoa, in 1975 to become the first man to win from scratch. Ravelomanantsoa, who competed in three Olympic Games in the 100, 200, and relays, was invited to race by long-time promoter John Toleman but had little idea of what to expect.

''Before I came here, I almost didn't take it seriously enough,'' he told The Age in 2000. ''I had never run a handicap race before [and] I didn't understand how important it was for me to run in such a special event. I didn't know how tough and how difficult it was.''

Unhappy with just about everything - the scratch mark, the cold and wet weather, and the grass track - ''Ravelo'' had a temper tantrum the morning of the final and decided he had had enough, disappearing from his Ararat motel. But he was tracked down and convinced to return, and it was 120 metres of exhilaration in the final, as Ravelomanantsoa stormed to victory in 12 seconds flat.

It took another 30 years for Ravelomanantsoa's feat from scratch to be emulated, with Joshua Ross winning his second Gift in such fashion in 2005.

2. Easter Bunny
IT IS a busy couple of weeks for Melissa Breen, competing at the Australian athletics championships in Melbourne this weekend, and dubbing herself an Easter ''bunny'' for the Stawell Gift.

The 20-year-old sprinter will become only the fifth woman to compete in the men's event, following Nicole Coughlin (1988), Cathy Freeman (1995), Nigerian Gloria Kemasoude (2002) and Lauren Hewitt (2004), who all started off 10 metres.

''It's going to be a bit of fun,'' Breen said recently. ''In the women's Gift I'll be starting off scratch, but in the men's Gift I'll be the little bunny rabbit out in front and they'll all be chasing me down.''

Also in this year's women's Gift are Tamsyn Lewis, who won it in 2000, hurdler Lauren Boden and triple jumper Linda Allen.

Olympic gold medallist Freeman's two wins in the 400 at Stawell in 1995 and 1996 rank among the carnival's greatest moments, after giving away huge starts. You can watch them on YouTube, at gLawhD (the 1995 race) and i06xNr (1996 - watch for the flying elbow!)

3. Metre perfect?
YOU would think an event as storied as this one would have experienced just about every drama or controversy possible. But last year's Stawell Gift conjured something seemingly different, when it was discovered during the Easter Saturday heats that the 120-metre course was, in fact, 123.2 metres.

The first mutterings of concern came when heat times were slower than expected, and long-time watchers wondered whether the track had been marked out in a different position as the finish gates seemed to be in the wrong spot.

Officials paced the track, and tape measures were sought, as the error became apparent. The track was re-sized for the semi-finals and final on Easter Monday, and eventual winner Tom Burbidge summed it up when he noted that ''it wouldn't be Stawell without a bit of drama''.

4. Stings and tales
IF THERE'S one word synonymous with the Stawell Gift, it has to be bookmakers. Money talks at the Gift, particularly through rumours and tips whispered out of the corner of the mouth, as the bookmakers' compound swirls with cash and form. Big odds, smokeys and favourites, and even police raids at the call of the card, there's been many a plunge and sting.

One of the most notorious stings was in 1988 when Sam Martin, the coach of Scott and Paul Antonich - identical twin brothers, and sprinters - cooked up a helluva scheme and enlisted Paul's help. ''I didn't enter,'' Paul told The Sydney Morning Herald in 1989. ''And on the day of the final I got stuck into the meat pies and beer. Because we look exactly the same, everyone assumed I was Scott. His price blew from 10-1 on, the shortest in Stawell Gift history, to 4-1 and we collected $33,000 in bets [when Scott saluted].''

5. Veni, vidi …
INTERNATIONALS have long beaten a path to Stawell, starting with Irishman Tom Malone in 1884, and this year former world 100 metres champion Kim Collins (St Kitts and Nevis) is hoping to replicate Ravelomanantsoa's feat from scratch. Among the roll-call of internationals is former world champion and Olympic gold medallist Linford Christie, who, in 1999, after losing his heat and repechage, went home in high dudgeon. Scotsman George McNeill who won at his eighth attempt in 1981 and burst into song, American Jon Drummond and Barbadian Obadele Thompson (unsuccessful), and compatriot Jason Hunte (who did succeed).

Then there's American Valerie Brisco-Hooks, who was to have been the first woman to attempt the men's event when the triple Olympic champion came out in 1987. Unimpressed with her six-metre handicap, she flew back to the US without competing.

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