For the 136th year, the focus of Australian sport will turn its attention to the tiny Western Victorian town of Stawell this Easter.
With an abundance of athletic talent on show, along with many off track activities, the 2017 Stawell Athletic Club Stawell Gift is set to entertain all weekend long.
“No doubt the highlights will be the Stawell Athletic Club Stawell Gift and the Australia Post Women’s Gifts, with $40,000 going to the winners of both,” Event Director Ricky Marcy said.
2011 winner Mitch Williams-Swain will make his first appearance at the famous race since losing the final in a photo finish to Tasmanian Andrew Robinson in 2013. The heartbreak of false starting in 2013 and being penalised a metre will swell as motivation for him to once again take home the winners sash.
According to bookmakers, the early favourite at $3.25 is 18-year-old Matthew Rizzo of Langwarrin. The University student finished 5th last year off a mark of 8m and despite being pulled to 7.5m for this weekend, the bookmakers like him as he hasn’t raced since the Rye Gift in January.
17-year-old student Will Roberts has also seen his odds plummet since the opening of betting earlier in the week. The Sydney-sider won the Australian U’20 200m championships just a fortnight ago in 21.10seconds, and will no doubt enjoy the uphill 120m Central Park track, so off a mark of 4.5m he will be one to watch.
“The men’s race appears to be wide open with a pair of teenagers the early favourites. That will no doubt change as the money comes at tonight’s Calcutta and then again after athletes show their form in the Saturday heats.
“Defending champion Isaac Dunmall has been in strong form this season and it’s great to have previous winners Williams-Swain and Andrew Robinson back,” Marcy said.
In the Australia Post Women’s Gift, Toea Wisil is proving to be the early favourite. In career best form after running 11.29seconds for the 100m this season and winning the Australian 100m Championships earlier this month, all eyes will be on the Papua New Guinean who will run from the mark of honour, scratch.
The two-time Olympian will give a 0.25m head start to Australian dual Olympian and Australian 100m record holder Melissa Breen, with the handicapper obviously taking note of the 0.22second difference between the pair in their most recent outing at the Australian Championships. This match-up is set to be one of the highlights of the weekend. Breen has been a regular at Stawell for many years and tasted glory in 2012, while for Wisil it is her debut on the hollowed turf.
“The Australia Post Women’s Gift has experienced an 18% increase in participation numbers this year, so it’s obvious the parity in prizemoney is having an impact. Marcy explained.
Dual Olympian Lauren Wells will look to defend her Lorraine Donnan Women’s 400m title off scratch once again and Australian 800m record holder Alex Rowe will add firepower to the TAC Herb Hedemann Invitation 1600m.
A total of 23 races, ranging from 70m to 3200m in distance, will attract over 700 participants to Central Park over the three days. A number of Little Athletics Victoria events will also be conducted over the weekend.
Easter Monday will feature a 3-hour live broadcast on Channel 7 and affiliates around Australia from 11:30am AEST.
Away from the running, the event will continue its tradition of hosting a Ladies Day on Saturday, along with the new ‘Off Track Street Party’ on Saturday evening with live music, food vendors and fireworks.
Sunday is Cadbury Family Day, which kicks off with a free kids athletics clinic, shortly followed by the Cadbury Easter Egg Hunt, where event organisers expect up to 500 kids to participate.
“This Stawell Gift Carnival is packed with a range of entertainment options, from fashions on the field, to live bands, kids activities and of course the athletics. With our best entries in a decade, this Australian sporting tradition is continuing to excite people across the country,” Marcy added.
Tickets are available at http://www.stawellgift.com/
The 2017 Stawell Easter Gift runs from this Saturday 15 – Monday 17 April.