2007 Bay Sheffield winner Damian Tohl overcame two years of frustrating achilles injuries to win an exciting BHP Billiton and City of Whyalla Gift on Saturday. Tohl became the fifth athlete to win the Bay Sheffield/Whyalla Gift double – the two oldest Gifts on the SA Athletic League calendar, when he defeated James Cibich and Ryan Hancock with less than a metre between the three place getters.
The 38th running of the Whyalla Gift was run into a fierce head wind causing times to be slow and playing havoc with the technique of the athletes. Tohl’s big race experience ensured he held his form to the line as he recorded his biggest win in six years.
Tohl spent over 12 months in rehabilitation after chronic achilles soreness kept him off the track for most of last season.
“I just couldn’t get it right, it (achilles) was something that needed a lot of rest to ensure it fully recovered” Tohl said.
Tohl was one of three athletes in the final coached by his father, Anthony, winner of the 1981 Bay Sheffield. Stablemates David Gross and Luke Houlihan finished fourth and sixth respectively while backmarker Alex Saliu finished fifth.
Despite a penalty for winning last week’s Henley Women’s Gift, Hayley Openshaw scored her second consecutive win when she took out the BHP Billiton and City of Whyalla Women’s 120m. Openshaw was the overwhelming favourite as she went to her 11.25m mark, but showed no signs of nerves in beating Lauren Edwards (8.50) and Amie Mittiga (9.00) in 14.73secs.
Openshaw returned later in the night to become the first athlete to win the Women’s 120m/300m double on the same day.
In the McLeods Holden 300m, Openshaw (34m) beat elder sister Yasmin (29m) and Ali Trewartha (24m), in a slick 39.83secs. It was the first time the Openshaw sisters had both been on the dais for the same event.
“I’m so happy to be up here with my sister, she has been an inspiration to me” Hayley said.
Openshaw’s stablemate Hayley Orman made it a double for coach Aaron Harrison when she won the Beyond Bank Women’s 70m. Running off the back mark of 5.75m, Orman won her second Whyalla race to add to the Under 20’s 120m she won in 2012.
After a slow start to the season, Camden athlete Brad Schutz returned to form with a surprise win in the Whyalla Min Bins 70m. Schutz (8.75m) rarely competed last season due to a number of injuries, but showed he will be around the mark in major 70m events, winning the short sprint from Ali Saliu (10.75m) and Whyalla Gift winner Damian Tohl (5.75m) in 8.13secs.
The absence of his coach Frank McHugh, did not faze teenager Jack Sutton as he easily won the Bis Industries 300m Open. McHugh was unable to make the trip to Whyalla missing Sutton (28m) streaking away from the field, beating stablemate James Cibich (18m) and Sudanese athlete Deng Bulabek (20m) in 35.18secs.
Having his first start for the season, Matt Fallon (88m) continued the McKinnon Parade monopoly of SAAL distance events, taking out the Telstra Shop 800m, beating stablemate Tim Earle (55m) and Flagstaff Hill’s James Grant (110m) in 1-56.02.
Later in the night, the 800m placings were replicated when Damian Robinson (135m) made it a McKinnon Parade double winning the Whyalla Earthworks 1600m from fellow McKinnon athlete Matthew Konetschka (140m) and James Grant (250m) repeating his 800m 3rd place. Robinson took the lead at the bell and drew away to record a comfortable win in 4-15.26.
Western District’s David Miller continued his stellar start to the season winning both the 70m novice and 300m Over 35’s. Miller has now won four races this season previously winning 120m events at Port Adelaide and Henley.
In the Veolia Environmental Services 70m Novice, Miller defeated teenagers Jesse Cordoma (5.50m) and Valentino Yuel (6.25m) in 7.93secs. Two hours later Miller stormed down the outside to win the Snap Fitness Over 35’s 300m from Mark Howson (60m) and Ali Saliu (25m) in 37.48secs.
Cordoma (8.25m) atoned for his 2nd place in the Novice 70m, winning the Mort Daly Running Foundation Under 20’s 120m beating Deng Bulabek (7.75m) and Valentino Yuel (8.25m) in 13.55secs.
The Lions Club of Whyalla Mt Laura 50m Skins event started off with 6 male and two female athletes but after the elimination of six runners in the first three heats, the final became a gender showdown with David Gross (2.00m) trying to catch Alicia Wrench-Doody (6.00m). After a great start, Gross quickly overcame the handicap deficit to win his first sash for three years.
The HARSCO Metals & Minerals King of the mountain title went to reigning SAAL Athlete of the Year Ben Crawford, while the Queen of the Mountain title was won by World Cross Country representative, Tasmin McMahon.