THEY say all roads lead to Stawell for Easter when it comes to running. This Easter will be different but just as exciting for the potential it holds.
Central Park has a history of playing host to the nation’s top track specialists – and indeed world sprint leaders – but this year offers a big stage for the future.
Less than one week out from the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast, most of the big names are instead fine-tuning their races for the green-and-gold. This year offers a chance for emerging talent to sound a warning.
Stawell has traditionally been a place where headline acts have tested their game, lured by the reputation, prestige and challenge only Australia’s richest footrace can serve up.
Australian running legend Cathy Freeman won back-to-back 400-metre sashes here in 1995-96 by hunting down all rivals off scratch. Freeman’s second blitz gave up starts of more than 54m in what was months out from her silver medal winning effort at the Atlanta Olympics.
Commonwealth Games triple 4x400m relay gold medallist Tamsyn Lewis contested all but three Stawell carnivals from 1994 to her 2013 farewell. Lewis’ name is etched in Main Street as 2000 Women’s Gift winner.
For Lewis, a passionate Stawell contender, Central Park’s pull was the camaraderie and the hunt – sprinting was a completely different game when it became about the chase, rather than times.
Stawell taps into a different type of hunger on the track. This is largely what makes Stawell still so relevant today.
Naysayers have long questioned the art of handicap running when our elite ranks, like our best on the Gold Coast, all start from the same mark and must truly be fastest on the day to win.
Handicap racing operates on the basis of starting runners on marks that will essentially have them enter the finish gates together.
It may be different to the pure form that will be on show on the Gold Coast in a week’s time, but definitely worth the watch.
Professional handicap racing is a sporting equaliser from a different perspective. Foxing is under tight scrutiny and none more so than with all eyes on Stawell.
This offers a stage for rising talent to match the best.
Jamaican star Asafa Powell – the world’s fastest man before Bolt – was in the Gift mix at Easter 2013 against the likes of then-rising Ballarat talent and defending Stawell champion Matt Wiltshire. Had injury not hampered him last week, Powell would be on the Gold Coast vying for his 100th sub-10 second 100m finish.
Australian sprint queen Mel Breen has long championed prizemoney parity in the Stawell Women’s Gift, which this Easter will run with a purse equal to the men for the fourth time. And Breen has put her race out there each year to prove why.
While Breen is on the Gold Coast this Easter, there will be those who train alongside her readying for Stawell. Those like Ararat’s Sarah Blizzard, who is chasing a fifth consecutive women’s final.
Emerging talent is an Easter guarantee at Stawell and definitely worth getting excited about before tuning in to the Gold Coast.