It was another hot weekend of pro running at the Bendigo Gift, held at the Tom Flood Sports Centre in conjunction with the Bendigo International Madison. From Saturday evening onwards, the races alternated with the cycling events, but the first morning was dedicated to running, and saw a few athletes in particular continue their recent strong form.
Most notably, perhaps, was James Deane, who took home his third and fourth sash in a week thanks to his victory in the 800m Open final, and then the 1600m Open. In the 800m, Deane ran in blue and was amongst the large chase pack that formed at the bell. Out the front were three runners, including the leading Martine Beer, who had a break of around 50m on the pack. Deane made his way to the front of the chase pack and then stole the lead at the top of the home straight, running on to win strongly. The 1600m was much of a repeat performance, although he was challenged down the home straight by Sven Richter and Dylan Moore, he managed to hold them at bay to cap off a stunning week.
Another was Mitchell White, in the Under 20 120m. After winning the same event last weekend in Euroa, White was pulled back 1.25m, from 16m to a handicap of 14.75m. As such, it would be expected to take him a while to be back in the mix again. Instead, White exploded from the blocks to catch the rest of the field early. Tom Griffin in yellow, and Ryan McNamara, in red, both came home quickly in the back half of the race, but neither could get near White, who looked ecstatic when he crossed the line.
Other finals held on the Saturday included the 70m Open, won by Daniel Sonsini in red, and Keely Shillito in the 400m restricted final, who won from Dani Pike in what was a very close finish. Caitlin Hawks didn’t have the fastest qualifying time in the 400m Black Pearl, but she bolted home from the red in the final, to close on the fast starting Kirrily Burnett, and cross the tape first ahead of Natasha McDowell.
The Ray Foley Memorial 800m Invitation final produced an absolutely cracking race. The pace was hot from the start and strung the field out single file, until the backmarkers steadily began to peg back the gap in the second lap. By the time the runners burst from the last bend, the field had bunched into one large pack that blanketed across the track as they surged down the home straight. It was impossible to pick the winner until the green of Jacob Reed somehow edged his way to the front by half a metre with less than a second to run. The finish was so tight that there was less than two seconds difference between first and last (10th) place.
Competition resumed late afternoon Sunday, in front of a packed and attentive crowd. The Bendigo Thousand Women’s Vase semi-finals saw a few favourites emerge, including Nadeen Brown, who came out of the blocks well to win with a metre to spare, despite Amie Mittiga’s effort to claw into second from the red. Kirsty Stevens ran well to take out semi 2, and Ebony Lane saluted in semi 3, almost matching Brown’s blistering time. However in the final, no one else had a look in, as Brown cruised to her fastest time of the competition, 14.08s, a time fast enough to see her take home the Bendigo sash.
Paul Hughes continued his form from Keilor to set the fastest heat time in the 120m Open, but Dean Dobric’s time was right up there as well, with Craig Foley and Daniel Steinhauser close on his heels. Dobric soon emerged as a clear favourite, when he ran the fastest semi-final time to win by a significant margin. Cam Dunbar and Dion Paull appeared his only challengers, as Hughes couldn’t quite manage to repeat his heat time. Due to a scratching by Rob Lehmann, Dobric, from 10.25m, started the final as the out marker, and never looked back as he comfortably held off the rest of the field to win clearly.
The invitation mile couldn’t have finished more differently than the 800m invitation. There was no blanket finish, but rather a race of two athletes; Cody Williamson in blue-white and Andrew Buchanan in red. Williamson took the lead very early in the race, and continued to increase the gap the longer the race went on. With nothing but 30 metres of space between himself and the chasing pack at the bell, Williamson looked untouchable. With the no one in the pack able to match his pace, the challenge would have to come further back in the field, and it did so in the form of Buchanan, who had worked his way up to fifth by the bell. Knowing he couldn’t afford to leave his run late with the size of the gap he needed to work back, Buchanan kicked hard, and was able to move into second place with around 250m to run. Williamson was still running well, but his solo effort was taking its toll, and Buchanan pounced in the home straight, gliding past to win by just over a second.
The night culminated in one of the highlights of the event – the 400m Black Opal. Jack Lacey announced himself as the favourite by taking out both his heat and semi in convincing fashion, but there were others in the mix. Paul Tancredi and Ryan McNamara both looked strong, and Matthew Hargraves produced a huge run from the white to edge out Leigh Phelan. The much anticipated final was the last race for the night, and was run in perfect conditions. The heat of the day had cooled into ideal racing temperature, and there was no wind to speak of, setting the stage for a very fast race. Paul Tancredi started the hardest, and shot to the front early, in green, flying past Lacey in grey and Phelan in black. At the back, Luke Stevens was making ground quickly, having set off from scratch, and began to pick off the athletes one by one as they headed down the back straight. Going into the second bend, Lacey kicked into a new gear, and stole back the lead from Tancredi as they headed for home. Lacey successfully held his pace to the line, holding off renewed challenges from Phelan and Tancredi, who took second and third respectively. Stevens produced an enormous run to finish only an inch behind in fourth, in a staggering time of 45.86s for the full 400 metres.