Steffensen set to electrify Stawell Gift

By Melanie Whelan

ELECTRIFYING sprinter John Steffensen is set to spark up Central Park again this Easter.

The crowd favourite has signed up for a new challenge at the Stawell Gift carnival, tackling the 550-metre handicap

Steffensen, a Commonwealth Games 400m gold medallist, says the event forms part of his training regime to gradually transitions into the 800m.

"At this stage of my career I need new challenges to keep things fresh," Steffensen said.

"The 800m has always been an event I felt I could do.

"I know I certainly have a lot to do before I become a serious competitor at 800m and the 550m distance at Stawell is an ideal stepping stone for an old 400-metre runner like me looking to increase my range."

Steffensen said looked forward to the atmosphere at Stawell in what will be his third time at the event - he made his first appearance in 2011 and reached the final in 2012, only to pull up short with a hamstring injury.

"I've always had a great time at Stawell, racing in the unique competitive environment of handicap racing on grass in front of a large enthusiastic crowd," Steffensen said.

"There is no other athletics meeting like it."

Steffensen is in action at Melbourne's Lakeside Stadium this weekend for the Australian Athletic Championships and Commonwealth Games trials where he hopes to qualify in the 400m event.

He joins a decorated roll call this Easter.

Australia's fastest ever female sprinter Melissa Breen has signed up for the Stawell Gift, vying to be the first female to reach the semi-finals.

Two-time world 400m champion and Sochi Olympic bobsledder Jana Pittman will contest the women's 400m handicap.