QUEENSLANDER Stuart Uhlmann's decision to join the sprinting stable of Gold Coast trainer Bob Cook yesterday reaped the biggest possible reward - victory in the 2002 $54,000 Stawell Gift, 120 metres.
Uhlmann, off 6.75 metres, staved off a challenge by American Greg Saddler, 2.25m, to win the world's most famous footrace in a scintillating 11.98 seconds.
For Saddler, it was the second time he has finished second in the event, also doing so in 1998.
South Australian-based Nigerian Idika Uduma was third ahead of Todd Ireland in his third Stawell Gift final, Jarrod Meagher and Shaun Walker.
Uduma, 19, is long jump specialist is in Australia on a development scholarship and is coached in Adelaide by Port Power football assistant coach Andrew Russell.
From Cedar Grove near Beaudesert in Queensland's hinterland, Uhlmann could not give Cook enough credit.
"This belongs to him as much as me," Uhlmann said of his coach.
Uhlmann, 30, joined Cook's stable after a chat at last year's Stawell Gift.
Uhlmann was run out of the semi-finals, but was coaching himself at the time.
He said if he could reach the semi-finals without a strict training regime, he felt sure he could do much better in the care of a mentor such as Cook.
Cook has had many runners campaign at Stawell, but until yesterday never had a finalist.
"He's easy to train," Cook said.
He said the toughest part had been holding Uhlmann back.
Installed as favourite after having the fastest heat win of 12.09 seconds on Saturday, Uhlmann had a slight hiccup in his semi-final when Nigerian Ambrose Ezenwa almost caught him napping.
Uhlmann had to lunge on the line to keep his nose in front.
"I fell asleep for a while...it won't happen in the final."
And it it did not.
A talk with Cook saw to that.
"This is as good as it gets," Uhlmann said.
"It doesn't get any better."
Uhlmann is only the fourth Queenslander to win the Stawell Gift since its inception in 1878, the latest being Ken Trewick, of Brisbane, in 1950.
Ballarat runners Evan King, Luke Madden and Matthew Stewart were all run out in the semi-finals along with scratchmarker Obadele Thompson and Brit Doug Turner.
"Looks like another year watching the final," lamented Thompson.