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PROTRACK » GENERAL » Len Johnson's wrap up of the Stawell Gift - Good timing is vital

Len Johnson's wrap up of the Stawell Gift - Good timing is vital

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Good Timing: A column by Len Johnson

Posted by RT Ross
Runners Tribe website
April 5, 2013

If you could choose just one asset in life, good timing might not be a bad pick.

If Mitch Williams-Swain had it, he might have won a second Stawell Gift. Instead, a false start in the final saw the 2009 winner having to pull his blocks up and move them back a metre. He lost to Andrew Robinson by just 0.02 seconds, equivalent to about 20 centimetres.

Robinson had more good fortune on Easter Monday. Asafa Powell was drawn in his semi-final, but was unable to run due to a minor tear in his hamstring. He ran bravely, and was a great Stawell story, what with running for his coach, Ray Quarrell, who had lost his home in the Tasmanian bushfires, but luck and good timing played their part, too.

I was thinking about timing again at the John Landy Lunch, the prelude to the Melbourne World Challenge meeting. Powell was there as an honoured guest. With better timing he would have been running.

Sally Pearson was there, too. Pearson has sat out the domestic season with her own hamstring injury. The two athletes were called up onto the stage for interview. Instead of talking about running the following day’s meeting, they swapped cracks about where to find the best hamstring shop in Melbourne.

Stawell’s timing is determined by the date of Easter, a movable feast. Melbourne’s misfortune this year was to follow Stawell by less than a week. It couldn’t be later, because next week is the nationals.

So Melbourne, our IAAF World Challenge meeting and inarguably our best over time, had to contend for the oxygen of publicity with Stawell, arguably our most popular. It was as if the Cox Plate were run the week after the Melbourne Cup, instead of 10 days before.

Bad news for Stawell – Powell’s injury – automatically became bad news for Melbourne, while good news for Stawell, well, that was just good news for Stawell. Wiser heads know that such timing should not be repeated in the future.

Would Powell have won the Gift off the scratch mark. We’ll never know, because he didn’t get there. Nor did Josh Ross, who looked a good thing against every runner other than Powell from his mark of one metre.

The backmarker’s curse, transferred from Powell to Ross, did for one of the only two men to have ever won off scratch.

As noted already, Stawell still got a great story out of this year’s Gift. The drama around Powell added to the general air of intrigue which always swirls around Central Park at Easter time. The race could not have been closer, the winner has scarcely had a more compelling story to tell.

Yet, once again, the story delivered was not the story promised. The Stawell Gift has been an iconic event (to use that overworked descriptor) for years. To a large extent, that status is independent of who runs and who wins.

But Stawell is more than this now. It is also a commercial event, reliant on sponsorship and government support. To that end, we have seen the various stories floated over the years about the Gift’s imminent move to Melbourne (remember the Docklands Stadium Stawell Gift?) and, more recently, Ballarat.

These stories are usually aimed at shaking a bit more money from the sponsor or government tree, mostly to good effect.

It has also heightened the desire to get top runners to the Gift, not to win – because that is proving practically impossible – but to garner pre-race publicity. Going some way back, Los Angeles Olympic women’s 200/400 champion Valerie Brisco-Hooks was going to run in the late 1980s. It never happened.

Another year, the Melbourne Herald floated Carl Lewis as a possibility. The Age didn’t have the story, but I did have a contact for Lewis’s manager Joe Douglas. The sports editor was delighted with Douglas’s response which, from memory, was: “I don’t mean to be rude, but I’ve never heard of the Stawell Gift.”

So it has continued through, among others, Linford Christie, Jon Drummond, Kim Collins and, now, Asafa Powell, this disconnect between the initial publicity and the final story. A couple have won, eventually, Warren Edmonson and George McNeill are two to have won the Gift off a back mark after several attempts.

Still others have gone close – Michael Frater was centimetres away from winning his semi last year and the winner, Doug Greenough went on to take second in the final. Mostly, though, they come, are written about the week before, and depart without winning (though assumedly paid for their help with the promotion).

Stawell being Stawell, no-one seems to mind too much. And, when you get a final like this year’s, maybe you shouldn’t.

It would just be pleasing to see the men off the back marks up there contending every year, instead of once in a blue moon.


Len Johnson:
"It would just be pleasing to see the men off the back marks up there contending every year, instead of once in a blue moon."

When the internationals turn up to Stawell in best shape as Warren Edmondson did in 1977 they are very competitive. The biggest problem is very few turn up in their best shape; that is - race hardened.

We saw on Saturday night that a sub 21sec 200m athlete in Wallace Spearmon rocked up to the Melbourne WC meet under done and was exposed in the 100m. Earlier in the night he won the 200m, but in a time well outside the range you would expect from someone of Spearmon's class.

Asafa Powell had a genuine chance to win the Stawell Gift. The VAL & Stawell (thanks to Jump Media) came to the party with a handicap landscape that gave him a massive chance and an all expenses paid trip.

In the fifth semi it came down to - Powell in say 9.9 shape (shouldn't be too hard given he has run under 10secs over 80 times) v Robinson (say 10.70 shape?). Powell 'only' had to concede Andrew Robinson 7.25m over 120m. On a synthetic track you would back Powell to beat Robbo over 100m giving him that start. With an extra 20m to catch him, he should be able to do it comfortably.

Of course this is all academic now. Unfortunately Powell did his hamstring and couldn't run in the semi won by Robinson who went on to win the final.

The bottom line is, if the international athletes were genuinely serious about competing at their best at Stawell, they need to turn up on the back of a series of comps & training that gives them the race hard edge they need to run out the 120m on Central Park.

So while I agree with most of Len Johnson's sentiments, the onus is on the internationals to regularly rock up in best shape and not just once in a blue moon.

"Let's Go While We're Young"

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