Ryan Tarrant and Bella Pasquali defeated previous Stawell Gift winners to claim the $40,000 winners’ cheques on Easter Monday.
Photos by Luke Hemer courtesy of Stawell Gift
Tarrant, the Australian Under 20 200m silver medallist, became only the seventh man in 141 editions to win the Gift off a mark of less than 4 metres. Running off 3.75m he was quickest in Saturday’s heats with a 12.29 second clocking and the fastest semi-final winner at 12.18 seconds.
In the final he lined up in the white, with 2016 winner Isaac Dunmall two lanes to his right in yellow off 6 metres, and 2017 winner Matt Rizzo to his left in the red, also off 3.75m. The front marker Nick Antonio, off 8.75m, proved the man to catch, which Tarrant did just before the line, for a one-hundredth-of-a-second victory in 12.24 seconds.
“I’m a 100m and 200m track runner normally so the 120m distance is perfect for me. The crowd here at Stawell was amazing,” the first-year Melbourne University student said.
Unlike Tarrant, 16-year-old Bella Pasquali didn’t start the day as favourite for the women’s race. That title sat with 2015 Gift winner Grace O’Dwyer and Olivia Hastings at the beginning of the day, depending on which bookmaker you spoke to. The pair had the equal fastest times in the heats.
But in the semi-finals it was Keely Henderson (10.75m) who was fastest in 13.62 seconds. Pasquali, who won the 400m last year at Stawell, also shot into contention, with a 13.63s clocking off her mark of 7.25m. O’Dwyer, 13.70s off 7m; and Hastings, 13.76s off 7.25m, followed as the next two fastest semi-final winners.
Pasquali, who won the U17 400m at the Australian All School Championships in December, used her strength over the final stages of the race, to take victory by two-hundredths-of-a-second from O’Dwyer in a time of 13.55 seconds.
In years gone by, the Herb Hedemann 1600m had been the distance race of note on Easter Monday, often featuring international level athletes as the back markers. Not so this year, with the women’s 1000m taking centre stage with the strongest domestic field assembled across the season.
Both Australian 800m and 1500m champions and record holders, Catriona Bisset and Jessica Hull, lined up, as did Commonwealth Games bronze medallist Abbey Caldwell, Olympians Georgia Griffith and Linden Hall, and Australian junior 800m & 1500m champion, Claudia Hollingsworth. Just 10 metres separated the main protagonists, with Hull and Caldwell off scratch, giving Hollingsworth a 10 metre head start.
It made for a sensational tactical race, with 17-year-old Hollingsworth eventually taking an inside run down the straight for victory from Hull and Hall for victory, after looking like she may have been out of the running with 200m remaining.
“What an amazing experience to race at Stawell, I’ve heard so much about this place,” said Hollingsworth.
“It was so awesome to race the girls and have another great battle. I’m turning 18 on Wednesday so what a great way to celebrate!”