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A Stawell Gift for the ages… Jack Lacey and Chloe Mannix-Power take top prize on saturated track

A betting scandal, a torrential downpour, a two-hour delay, a damaged track, a misfiring gun and two runners walking away with $40,000 each. The 2024 Stawell Gift had it all.

A betting scandal, a torrential downpour, a two-hour delay, a damaged track, a misfiring gun and two runners walking away with $40,000 each. The 2024 Stawell Gift had it all.

Photos by Luke Hemer, courtesy of Stawell Gift

The Stawell Gift has only ever been cancelled due to world wars and a pandemic, but a storm and power outages threatened the hosting of the 142nd edition of the event on Easter Monday.

That was after a controversial Saturday when Sydneysider Tom Pellows, who had been backed into favouritism with the few bookies who still offer a market on the Gift, was sensationally disqualified after his heat run.

Pellow clocked one of the ten fastest heat times, finishing second in 12.25s off the limit mark of 10 metres. The problem? His form when he last raced, pre-Christmas, had him almost a second slower:

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  • 13.14s off 9.75m in Terang (December)
  • 13.97s off 9.75m in Warrnambool (December)
  • 14.54s off 8.95m in Macksville (November)
  • 13.79s off 7.75m in Mortlake (November)

Pellow had raced off 7.75m at last year’s Stawell Gift, finishing 8th in his heat in 13.92s. He was reportedly backed from $201 to $1.75 to win prior to the running of the heats this year.

Endale Mekonnen in action in the heats on Saturday

Endale Mekonnen had been the fastest heat winner at 12.07 seconds. He was only one-hundredth-of-a-second from the fastest semi winner, Jack Lacey, who clocked 12.23s.

Come the final on Easter Monday the heaven’s opened, flooding the track. It was to be two hours of extra wait for the athletes, along with significant work from the ground staff, before the track could be run on.

The saturation of the track meant that the inside two lanes, typically home to the runners in red and blue respectively, had to be abandoned. Thankfully there’s only 6 runners who qualify for the Gift Final on its 8 lane track.

Nerves settled they were ready to go. But the gun wasn’t – malfunctioning. On the second running they were off.

Lacey, 23, was the front marker in pink off 9.75m. The backmarker, Jack Ireland, off 5m, had strong pedigree, with his father Todd having placed third in the Gift in his day. Between them, in blue, was Mekonnen.

In an even race it was between the three, and then over the last 20 metres, the front and the back makers. But Lacey held his form and dipped well at the line, for a 12.28s to 12.29s victory.

In the women’s Gift beach sprinter Chloe Mannix-Power dealt with the soft track better than others, running to victory by over a tenth-of-a-second with a 13.42s run off her 4.25m handicap.

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The Brett Robinson coached athlete had been noted as ‘highly favoured’ by event organisers when the handicaps were released and was the fastest at each stage of the event, with 13.34s in the heats and 13.42s in the semi-finals.

Mannix-Power thanked her coach Brett Robinson and teammates from Viking Athletics. 
“They all helped me along the way and I couldn’t ask for a better team to win this with.” The Northcliffe Surf Club Manager is already a two times Australian beach sprint champion and will attempt a third title in two weeks time.
“Chloe has put in a massive season,” said 6 time Stawell Gift winning trainer Robinson. 
“We felt very confident going into today especially after her heat time on Saturday. We’re used to delays in beach sprints so the wait today didn’t bother us. Our next goal is to win the Australian Beach Sprints in two weeks then we’ll sit down and make a plan for the future.”

In second was Chloe Kinnersly (13.53s) off 9.75m with talented junior 400m runner Jemma Pollard third in 13.55s off 8.75m.

The Invitational 1000m Handicap saw Olympic 800m finalist Peter Bol line up as backmarker with Victorian 800m and 1500m champion Riley Bryce the next top athlete, off 10 metres.

Bryce was able to just hold off Bol take victory 2:24.77 to 2:24.79.
“To come first against one of Australia’s greatest distance runners was so great,” Bryce said.
Not to be put off by the weather, a gracious Bol reflected on the race.
“Crazy weather but what a great event. I haven’t raced in rain like that since I was a kid! We’ll be back next year, the crowds and kids have been unreal. Congrats to Riley, I left just a little too much to do off the last bend. I felt I had a chance to catch him but he was just a bit strong,” said Bol.