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Geelong Gift 2016 - By AJ Macdonald

2016 Geelong Gift

It was a perfect day for the 2016 Geelong Gift. A swirling breeze was blowing, but the small track situated right on the bay looked picturesque in the sun.

The 70m Open heats kicked off the morning, with ‘The King of Keilor’ Craig Foley taking out the first heat. The fastest time came in heat 6, when Jasper Nettlefold posted 7.65s off 5.75m. Rupert Lugo from 7m and Rhys Gillson from 6m also both snuck under the 7.70sec mark to auto-qualify for the Semi-Final. Foley and Nettleford took out semi 1 and 3 respectively, and Lawrence Coop, running from 8m, saluted in semi 2. It was Jasper Nettleford who impressed in the final, winding in the field to win in the red. After scraping through on time in his semi, Lugo ran strongly for second, and Gillson got up for third.

In the VRTA Under 20 100m, the final field, listed from red to grey, included Benjamin Farrell, River Robson, Bailey Squire, Samuel Grouios, Harrison Minett, Jonathon Kerr, Edward Tassell and Stephanie Mundy. It was a tight finish. Robson from 8m almost hit the front, but Mundy managed to just hold on, with Kerr not far behind for 3rd.

It was the out marker again who took out the 100m Master’s final. Impressive performances in the heats included Jonathon Rogers (7.25m) and Brendan Boyle (11m), but neither of them could get close to Ricky Dunbar, who posted a blistering 11.21 to emerge as the clear favourite. He then went even quicker in the final, and ran away to win from 29.25, followed by Boyle for second and Hilditch for third.

Events on the circle track dominated the later afternoon period. The Geelong track is similar to the famous Bay Sheffield, with tight, short bends, and laps only 250m in length. In this way, tactics come into play even more than usual, and athletes need to determine how and when they’ll push the pace, while allowing for periods of acceleration and deceleration, coming into and out of the bends.

First up were five heats of the women’s 300m. Heat 1 was the standout, with Jody Richards the winner in yellow from 23m, in a time of 40.91s, quicker than any to follow. Mandy Emmett from 56m and Jessica Payne from 9m also flew, recording times that would have won them any of heat 2, 3 or 4. As it was, Chloe Barnard (33m), Emma Gaul (43m), and Caitlyn Hocking (36m), were those heat winners, and Tamara Hammond (13m) saluted in the last heat in a time of 41.07s. The final was hotly contested, and saw a huge pack form right as the runners came out of the second bend and onto the home straight, forcing the backmarkers very wide as they tried to hit the front. Mandy Emmett had led the field out and was still in front heading down the straight, but the pack was making ground. It was Payne in red and Hammond in white who looked the only chances to catch Emmett as they went wide to claw past the group, but, with only metres left to run, it was Richards who slipped through the inside in her effortless style to burst clear and cross the line unchallenged. The win follows Richard’s victory in the women’s 400m at Stonnington a week ago.

The 300m Masters’ produced another close final, after a series of tight heats. The first five of the six heats saw the five winners post times within .4 of a second of each other. The 6th and final heats was significantly faster, and Tim Halpin (19m), Jamie Johns (35m) and Elisha Ezard (65m) all posted times that would have seen them win any previous heat. In the final it was more of the same, with Johns bettering his heat time to come home first, with Harris (heat 3 winner from 40m) second, and Halpin 3rd.

In the 1000m open, the three heat winners; Alexander Bacalja (34m), Tayla Sproule (144m) and Mark Andrews (48m), all went on to feature strongly in the final. Sproule took up the front running early, after running stride by stride with Stefan Catalano until she managed to drop him on the second last lap. Making ground on her step by step was a large pack, which Bacalja demanded the lead of with 450m to run. Sproule collected the bell still clearly ahead, but Bacalja was looming, and the white of Williamson was also looking dangerous, having latched onto the pack. Andrews was also running strongly, and did his best to hang onto Bacalja as the blue made his move. Down the back straight Bacalja shrunk the gap further, then flew into the lead around the last bend. He ran away to win strongly by over a second, with Williamson closing quickly for second and Andrews holding on very well for third. The win follows Bacalja’s emphatic victory in the Ballarat 2 mile.

The women’s and masters’ 1000m final played out in a similar fashion, this time with Sean Quilty in green the one reeling in the field. The front markers, Justine White and Martine Beer, were running strongly, and it wasn’t until down the back straight on the last lap that Quilty moved into third place and kicked up another gear as he headed for home. He managed to pass his trainer, Beer, coming out the top of the bend, and then bore down on White, who was having an impressive race from the front. Quilty took the lead with 50m to go, but White had a bit left and pushed him all the way to the tape. In the end it was Quilty who prevailed, with White second and Beer third.

Along with Bacalja’s success, the 550m open saw another sash for the Mark Hipworth stable. After winning his heat by over a second, Hage, in grey from 40m, managed to hold off challenges from the yellow of Jack Hilson, and the green of Jack Doderico, as they pushed him all the way down the straight.

In the first of the two biggest finals of the day, the 100 women’s gift, a host of fast times throughout the heats and semis set up a cracking final. It featured Sonya Pollard from 15m, Jacqui McCann from 10.5m, Karly Tafft from 10m, Natasha McDowell from 9.5m, Tahlia Martin also from 9.5m, Stephanie Mundy from 6.75, Taylah Perry from 5m, and Angela Byrt from 2m. The heats were evenly spread, as all finalists had crossed first, except for Byrt and Perry. Tafft looked impressive as she took out semi 1 from Mundy, and in semi 2 McCann was victorious with McDowell only a stich behind. The close field blanketed across the line, but it was McCann slightly ahead. Incredibly she finished 0.076 of a second ahead of McDowell, after finishing 0.075s ahead of her in the semi-final. Tafft was awarded third.

The 100m open Gift was a successful one on all counts for Darren Whittaker. He saluted in the very first heat, and then saw his athlete, Stuart Rooke, win impressively in heat 8. The time wasn’t the fastest, but Rooke hit the lead early and looked comfortable as he breezed to the line. Joshua Tiu, in heat 4, ran what was the quickest heat time, 10.72s, until Matthew Rizzo stormed home from the white in heat 9, recording 10.63s. Rooke turned it on again in his semi, winning convincingly from Kevin Brittain and Cam Dunbar, both of whom qualified for the final. Whittaker took out the next semi from Tiu, who couldn’t manage to replicate the pace of his heat and was knocked from contention. Other favourite Rizzo saluted in the last semi from Nettlefold, who was out to attempt the rare 70/100m double. In the final race of the day it was Rooke who produced another stellar run, to win from Rizzo, and his trainer, Whittaker. 

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