Sports reporter & Video journalist
It might not be quite as dramatic as buying the Wests Tigers NRL franchise, but billionaire property developer Harry Triguboff has bankrolled the iconic Botany Bay Gift – the nation's oldest foot race – with the hope it will be a stepping stone for an Australian to shine on the Olympic stage.
The Botany Bay Gift was first run in 1884 – 12 years before the first modern Olympics – and as part of Triguboff's involvement the event will return to its spiritual home, the 120-metre grass track at Sir Joseph Banks Park, Botany, on Australia Day, for the first time since 2001.
During its heyday thousands of people attended the gift to watch the likes of Britain's 1992 Olympic gold medallist Linford Christie, Trinidad's four-time Olympic medal winner Ato Boldon, Sydney Olympic champion Maurice Greene and a host of Australian sprinters, such as Matt Shirvington, Nova Peris and Melinda Gainsford-Taylor, strut their stuff.
Triguboff hopes the gift can be restored to its former glory as an elite sporting and wholesome community event that will provide Australian sprinters with a stepping stone for greater glories.
"I love the idea of bringing back a historic event for the community of Botany Bay and also for the general sport lovers who will have a great day on Australia Day at Sir Joseph Banks Park," Triguboff said.
"This event has had some past glory days and I'm a believer that it will again. The day has something for everyone. Let's hope a few of Australia's athletes looking for a big Olympic year in 2016 can make it a part of their competition calendar."
Like the Melbourne Cup, the gift is raced as a handicap, but rather than burdening a Christie with extra weight, competitors are given "starts" based on their times and ability.Triguboff, who made headlines when he said he would consider buying the Wests Tigers, revealed the challenge appealed to him.
"You look in parks, schools or beaches across the country or around the world and you find kids racing and giving each other head starts depending on age and ability," he said. "This is pro racing. The Botany Bay Gift will see kids doing this in a competitive and fun environment and also pro athletes competing for the main prize."
In announcing Triguboff's Meriton Apartments as a major partner in bringing the event back to Sir Joseph Banks Park, Andrew Muhlhan, the general manager of the NSW Professional Track League, predicted the support of one of Australia's richest men and the City of Botany Bay would ensure it regained its former prestige.
"There are many great people who have been a part of this sport for over 100 years," he said. "It's so exciting to now have the support of someone like Harry Triguboff. I believe Mr Triguboff's involvement, along with the City of Botany Bay, will give this event life again."
The Mayor of the City of Botany Bay, Ben Keneally, said the Botany Bay Gift would provide some new Australians a taste of their countrymen's love of sport and its rich sporting history.
"We remember the glory days in the 1990's which had a carnival atmosphere," he said of the city's appetite for the event. "Thousands of people would come along with picnic rugs and cheer on the athletes.
"The City of Botany Bay is excited about bringing back the Gift on Australia Day. On the morning of Australia Day (January 26) we will be inducting over 100 new Australian citizens. In the afternoon we'll then introduce them to the Australian tradition of Gift running."