BALLARAT teen Sam Baird has stormed to the biggest win of his brief professional running career, rounding up the entire field to claim the Black Opal 400m at the Bendigo Madison Carnival yesterday.
The 17-year-old ran an almost flawless race off a mark of 17 metres to triumph in Victoria’s most prestigious 400m foot race, in a time of 45.6 seconds.
“This is my biggest win by a mile,” Baird said. “I can’t believe it has happened. I’ve been setting myself for this for so long.
“It would be pretty close to the best run I’ve ever had. With 100m to go I was dead last but in that last 120m I had a sudden burst of energy.
“I then started chasing the frontmarker and it just happened.”
Baird’s time was an improvement of more than a second on his heat time of 46.7 seconds, and a 0.9 second improvement on the 46.5 seconds he ran to win his semi final.
It was Baird’s first victory in an open foot race. The Peter O’Dwyer trained runner won a novice race at Maryborough on New Year’s Day.
Earlier yesterday Evan King broke a seven year drought in professional foot racing, when he won the 300m veterans handicap.
Off a mark of 18m, the 42-year-old Alfredton sprinter chased down virtually the entire field, to claim the prize in 34.96 seconds.
“It has been a long time between drinks,” he admitted.
“I hoped it might have happened sooner than this. I last won a couple of 120m veterans races as a 35-year-old, so it has been quite a dry spell.”
King won his heat in a time of 35.19 seconds and was one of the backmarkers in the final. The only runner starting off a longer mark was his coach Rod Matthews, who finished fifth.
Describing himself as “a young veteran”, King has battled with injury since qualifying for the Stawell Gift final seven years ago.
“For the next seven years my body fell apart,” he said. “I’ve had two knee operations. I lost all the cartilage in my knee and I’ve got a bit of bone on bone. I’ve learned to manage it, with a bit of crosstraining, swimming, or on the bike.”
In his heyday, King made the Stawell Gift final four times, finishing second in 1997 and won a Maryborough Gift in 2000.