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PROTRACK » GENERAL » $40,000 the reward for 'vomiting sessions' on the dunes

$40,000 the reward for 'vomiting sessions' on the dunes

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Ballarat's Wiltshire wins 'magical' Stawell Gift

By Michael Gleeson, Stawell
The Age
April 10, 2012

Cut above the rest: Matt Wiltshire celebrates
after his Stawell Gift win. Photo: Angela Wylie

IN FRIGID, wet and windy conditions, it was only appropriate that yesterday's Stawell Gift was won by a boy from Ballarat, not a champion from the Caribbean.

Matt Wiltshire, the 20-year-old local, won the gift in 12.22 seconds off a mark of 8 metres. Jamaican champion Michael Frater, the multiple Olympic champion and world record holder, starting from scratch, was run out in a semi-final, finishing second by less than 100th of a second.

The loss of the foreign star from the final was compensated by the arrival of a local hero. Wiltshire crossed the line and was mobbed by dozens of mates and family.

Wiltshire choked up with emotion hugging his grandfather John ''Wiry'' Wiltshire who, 50 years ago, had been the favourite to win the race only to tear a hamstring in the semi-finals.

''Grandpa talked to me yesterday and I know how much it means to him. He just said, 'Try your best, that's all you can do'. I knew he would be proud of me no matter what, so to win I know how happy he would be. I just get emotional every time I bring it up,'' Wiltshire said.

John Wiltshire, 80, reckoned he had been more nervous than his grandson prior to the final.

''I'm over the moon, you couldn't be anything else could you? Another Stawell Sash for the family,'' he said. ''We have got the name there now, it's magic. We always hoped and prayed he would get there. We always knew he had ability.''

Wiltshire had been the gift favourite two weeks out but dropped into second favouritism for the final after a stunning run from veteran showman John Steffensen in the semi-final that saw his odds drop from $21 to $1.30 favourite.

Steffensen false started in his semi and was penalised a metre, pushing his start back to 5 metres, but still powered home to win.

In the final, Wiltshire began poorly while Steffensen was strongly out of the blocks and by halfway had virtually closed down the head start given the field. Wiltshire, however, lifted and Steffensen dramatically pulled up before the line.

Steffensen said he felt tightness in his hamstring and, mindful of not being qualified for the Olympics and the fact he will be racing in the next month for an A-qualifying time, pulled up.

Ever the university student, Wiltshire complained of the sacrifices needed to achieve his goal - giving away alcohol and eating a dull diet the most painful - but was relieved yesterday that the sacrifices had been worthwhile.

''No beer since Christmas. I sacrificed so much, all my mates are crazy drinkers and I used to drink at least once every fortnight so to stop all of that was a big thing for me [to] go to parties and stand there with my water bottle in the corner was not too fun,'' he said.

Having endured a rigorous beach dunes running program over the summer - ''I vomited three times a session every session'' - Wiltshire said he had found the strength to carry him in the critical last 20 metres of the race which he won by a tenth of a second from Doug Greenough, with AFL boundary umpire Adam Coote third.

''I don't know what I will do, buy an expensive surfboard, I think, and just live down the beach, grow my hair and become a surfer. I don't know. It is ridiculous - $40,000 at 20 years old - what are you supposed to do with it?'' Wiltshire said.

Earlier, 21-year-old rising star Melissa Breen, the second fastest woman in Australia behind Sally Pearson, won the women's gift from scratch.

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