THE year was 1958.
Ballarat sprinter John Wiltshire was on target to join the Stawell Gift honour roll.
He went to Central Park as the favourite.
Unfortunately for Wiltshire and his supporters, his quest was shot down by a torn hamstring.
He succumbed to the injury in a heat of the 75 yards – now known as the Arthur Postle 70-metre Handicap.
Wiltshire is hoping his grandson Matt can achieve at Central Park today what he never had the opportunity to attempt.
Like his grandfather, Wiltshire ventured to the first day at Stawell on Saturday as a favourite, but unlike that fateful day 54 years ago everything went to plan.
Scratching from the 70m heats to allow him to fully focus on the Stawell Gift, 120m, Wiltshire lived up to expectations by breezing to victory in the eighth of 21 heats in the one of the fastest times from eight metres.
His 12.211 seconds was bettered only by the new favourite Josh Tiu (12.154), Kevin Brittain (12.196) and surprise packet Adam Coote (12.208).
His desire to achieve what eluded his grandfather was among the first things Matt Wiltshire spoke about after his heat.
Wiltshire said he would love to win a Stawell Gift sash for his grandpa.
“It means a lot with him having so much history here, so it makes you want it a bit more,” he said. “He’s pretty much given me all the natural talent which is why I’m a good runner I suppose.
“I got it off Wiry.”
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John Wiltshire is regular in the grandstand at the Stawell Easter Gift Carnival.
The 80-year-old, who is a Ballarat Athletic Club life member and still officiates as a judge at the Ballarat Gift each year, said he had only missed Stawell once since his running days. That was to attend Australian Brass Band Championships.
“I thought Matt ran very well.
“We hope he can find a little bit more, but you never know in this game.”
Although he missed out on a sash in his professional athletics career, John Wiltshire has watched two generations win support events.
His son Stephen tasted victory in the backmarkers’ 400m in 1980 and Matt took out the novice 100m last year.
Seeing Matt win the big one today would be something special though.
Wiltshire began the day as the equal $3 favourite and his run was enough to retain a spot near the top of the market.