NEARLY 600 athletes will greet the starters pistol as the Stawell Gift makes its welcome return this weekend, a year after it was sensationally cancelled as the first nation-wide lockdown took its toll.
Heats for Monday's feature races will be held on Saturday and will see both 2019 winners Dhruv Rodrigues Chico and Lexi Loizou greet the judge.
A new race has been added to the calendar this year, a 3200m invitational, featuring some of Australia's top distance runners including former Ballarat Clarendon College border Stewart McSweyn, Brett Robinson and Jordan Williamz.
"It's so encouraging to see the strong numbers continuing at Easter. It's exciting because of what we had to deal with in 2020 and leading up to Easter," Chair of Stawell Gift Event Management Stephanie Spence said.
"With all the state border rules restricting travel, and the number of key athletics events including the Australian National Athletic Championships changing dates, we are thrilled with the number of runners joining us for the pinnacle of Australian pro running events next week."
Reigning champion Rodrigues Chico - the Victorian State 100m and 200m Champion will run off just .75m. He said it would be a challenge to feature again.
"Being a backmarker is not going to be easy, but I'm definitely up for the challenge," he said.
Should he be successful, he would become the first back-to-back winner since Bill Howard won in 1966 and 67.
Ballarat legendary runner Gerrard Keating will bring his protégé, and 100m and 200m Queensland champion, Torrie Lewis to compete. Lewis at just 16 has been given a .5 of a metre handicap.
"Exactly what I'd thought it would be. It's an honour to be on such a mark at such a young age, it really is," Keating said.
The Stawell Gift has also joined up with the McGrath Foundation to run the first Stawell Virtual Pink Sprint.
Its aim is to unite the community and raise funds for the charity which supports families experiencing breast cancer.
By making a donation of $10, contributors not only support the cause, they will receive a spot on the virtual start line of the Stawell Gift Virtual Pink Sprint, with the opportunity to win a VIP experience at the 2022 event.
"The Stawell Gift Virtual Pink Sprint is an easy, fun way for everyone to contribute to the incredible work of the McGrath Foundation," Spence said. Details: virtualpinksprint.com.au
Warnambool-based Ballarat Harriers sprinter Grace Kelly has been given an early Easter surprise, with a seemingly much more generous handicap for the Stawell Gift after she struggled to make any inroads at the Ballarat Gift last month.
This year's Warrnmabool Gift winner has received a 4.25m handicap, up from the 3m she received at Ballarat, the day after winning her home event.
The 14-year-old Kelly still made the final at Ballarat, but as the back marker, failed to figure at the end, finishing eighth.
The handicapper wasn't as kind to Ballarat Gift winner Zoe Neale who will run off a 4.5m handicap in Stawell, as opposed to the 5.5m she ran at Ballarat.
Rising sprint star Torrie Lewis, who is trained by Ballarat's Gerrard Keating has been handed a .5 of a metre handicap for Monday's classic.
Ballarat Men's Gift winner Spencer Browne would be content with his position at 7m after he won in Ballarat off 6.5m.
9.30am - 800m Women's Heats
9.43 - 800m Under 18 Heats
9.58 - Little Athletics 800m Heats
10.28 - 70m Women's Heats
11 - 70m Open Heats (first half)
11.31 - 1600m Frontmarkers Final
11.41- 70m Open Heats (second half)
12.09pm - 120m Women's Stawell Gift Heats
12.45 - Opening Ceremony
1.00 - 120m Powercor Stawell Gift (first half)
1.50 - 1600 Backmarkers Final
2 - 120m Powercor Stawell Gift (second half)
2.45 - 100m Masters Heats
3.25 - 800m Women's Final
3.35 - 800m Under 18 Final
3.45 - 800m Little Athletics Final
3.55 - 400m Frontmarkers Heats
4.09 - 400m Backmarkers Heats
9.30am - 100m Little Athletics Boys Heats
9.51 - 100m Little Athletics Girls Heats
10.22 - 70m Women's Semi
10.35 - 550m Open Heats
11.00 - 400m Women's Heats
11.25 - 100m Under 18 Boys Heats
11.43 - 100m Under 18 Girls Heats
12.14pm - 1600m Restricted Final
12.24 - 70m Women's Final
12.34 - 100m Restricted Heats
1.05 - 100m Under 18 Boys Final
1.15 - 100m Under 18 Girls Final
1.25 - 100m VAL Under 14 Series Final
1.35 - 70m Open Semi
1.57 - 300m Masters Heats
2.43 - 70m Open Final
2.53 - 400m Little Athletics Heats
3.19 - 1600m Women's & Masters
3.29 - 550m Open Final
3.39 - 200m Open Heats
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