REGARDLESS of what Josh Ross achieves this weekend in the Ballarat Gift at Eureka Stadium, he has already created a piece of history.
The reigning 100m national champion will start the 120m Ballarat Gift off a mark of -1.5m, further behind scratch than any other runner in an open gift race in Australia. That’s correct, negative 1.5 metres.
And the Melbourne-based sprinter, originally from the NSW Central Coast, is happy to wear that mark like a badge of honour even if it does make claiming the $20,000 main prize tougher.
“I’m kind of honoured (with the mark),” said Ross, who turns 32 today. “It is flattering and it tells me I’m still improving in my craft, getting faster and stronger.
“My first mark was 8.75m when I first started running pros, and now I’m behind scratch, which shows I’m actually getting better.
“If you get negative, pardon the pun, about the negative mark it will play with your head and you won’t run your best. I thrive on the pressure and the challenge. There is no better feeling than winning a gift race off scratch and chasing down guys in front of you, and the crowd seems to love it too.
“I feel I’m always a chance. The mark is just another challenge and a goal for myself.”
Ross is a two time Stawell Gift winner (in 2003 and 2005) and one of only three to win the Stawell Gift off scratch.
He mixes professional running with amateur athletics and is the reigning 100m national champion and a two-time Olympian, and describes professional foot races as great training for nationals.
Ross’s march backwards on the starting blocks started when he won the prestigeous Bay Sheffield race in South Australia off scratch, copping a 2m penalty from the handicapper.
In the Albury Gift he was officially off scratch but organisers moved every other competitor forward 2m to compensate.
Ross then won the St Albans Gift off scratch, earning another penalty of .75m.
Since Albury the handicappers have brought the field back to their normal handicaps, while putting Ross back a further 0.75 for a total of -1.5m.
“Even though he has had a lift in comparison to the rest of the field, his official mark of negative 1.5m is the furtherest behind scratch of any runner in an open gift race in Australia in recorded history,” Ballarat Gift organiser and on-track rival Shane Woodrow says.