Versace wins Stawell Gift thriller


Luke Versace wasn’t quite quick enough 12 years ago to get out of the way of a raging bull at Pamplona.

Last year, Versace was so fat his wife burst out laughing.

He proved fast enough yesterday – just – to fulfil his destiny and become a Stawell Gift champion.

And then he retired on the spot.

Running off the front mark of 10m in the 120m Gift, Versace powered home in 12.268 seconds and had to wait an agonising five minutes before being declared the winner by five thousandths of a second.

The connections of runner-up Gus Carty-Cowling (12.273) took a long look at the photo finish before declining to lodge a formal appeal, which seemed a strange decision as even Versace was not convinced he had crossed the line first.

Not that he was complaining.

Leading up to yesterday, Versace’s main claim to fame was having his leg badly gored at the Running of the Bulls in Spain in 2002.

“It was a terrible experience,” said the Victorian runner.

“I put my parents through hell.

“Physically it was pretty tough to come back from and emotionally it really knocked me back on my heels.

“When I was in hospital, I promised myself going into surgery if I got right I was going to win the Stawell Gift.

“I had reservations about how bad I was injured and I thought I’d really cocked up.

“This has been inextricably linked, those two stories.

“I don’t think about the bull on a day-to-day basis – it happened when I was 19. I’m an old man now.

“But when it comes to athletics, this finishes the journey.”

Versace recovered well enough to finish third in the 2005 Gift final behind Joshua Ross. But by his own admission he was not the most dedicated of trainers, as proved when he split his pants at a wedding several years ago when he weighed 98.5kg.

He had only got down to 90kg for last year’s Gift and was so out of condition his wife was laughing at him.

It prompted a “full and frank discussion” from coach Brad Armstrong.

Versace rededicated himself to the sport and got down to 78kg for what was to be his last crack at a race he always believed he could win one day.

“It’s been a super long journey. It’s just been amazing,” the 31-year-old said.

“I came into this sport and this is all I wanted to do.

“It was about this and only this.

“I probably hadn’t made the sacrifices I needed to to have this moment.

“But having it now is just ridiculous.”

The 2008 Gift winner, Sam Jamieson, was a close third in 12.296, coming up just short in his bid to become only the fourth man to win the celebrated handicap event more than once.

AAP


FINAL PLACINGS

Luke Versace 12.313sec (raw times)

Augustine Carty-Cowling 12.318sec

Sam Jamieson 12.341sec

John Adams 12.401sec

Ryan Camille 12.435sec

Chris Innes-Wong 12.441sec

Isaac Dunmall 12.489sec

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