SURPRISE packet Chris Innes-Wong is a major obstacle standing between Ballarat’s Joel Bee and a Stawell Gift final berth today.
Bee will clash with the little-known South Australian in the first semi-final, with only the winner to reach the final and run for the rich first prize of $40,000.
Innes-Wong was the subject of a major betting plunge going into Saturday’s heats, which sees him a $3 chance for the title after initially being $101.
He lived up to the expectations of supporters, winning his heat in 12.40 seconds.
Gift backmarker Bee (0.75m) will be giving away eight metres to Innes-Wong.
Bee put in an eye-catching performance in running second to Augustine Carty-Cowling in the eighth of 22 heats at Central Park.
With Bee doing his best work over the closing stages, Carty-Cowling produced the second fastest time of the day – 12.336 seconds.
Only Isaac Dunmall was quicker in 12.32.
Bee advanced as one the 20 fastest losers in the heats.
His time of 12.524 seconds was 14th fastest.
Bee will be joined by Ballarat veteran Peter O’Dwyer in the semi-finals.
O’Dwyer also stayed in contention, with one of the fastest losing times.
He made full use of his outmark of 10m and was only just run down by David Afath in 12.557.
O’Dwyer is one of the true veterans of the Gift, having been contesting the race for more than 25 years.
He is in the third semi-final – potentially the most open of the six.
Fellow 10m marker Luke Versace is most likely to be the one to beat, having run the fourth fastest time of 12.351 in the heats.
Dunmall has drawn the sixth semi-final, while 2008 Gift winner Sam Jamieson is in the second.
AUSTRALIA’S fastest woman, Melissa Breen, and paralympic running sensation Evan O’Hanlon will contest today’s backmarkers invitation 120m handicap.
Breen, who was run out of the women’s Gift and Stawell Gift heats, was thrilled to have another chance to race at Central Park this
The Canberra-based athlete had been vying to become the first female in history to reach the Stawell Gift semi-finals, but missed the cut.
“After not making it through to the semi-finals, this gives me another opportunity to take on the men,” Breen said.
“It also gives me the chance to run on Easter Monday, which is what every athlete wants to do at Stawell.”
O’Hanlon is aiming to compete in the 100m event at the able-bodied national track and field championships next year.
The remaining six runners for the invitational will be decided after the Gift semi-finals.
More Stawell Gift coverage pages 28,29