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PROTRACK » GENERAL » Herald-Sun, Maryborough Gift & 'Pedestrianism'

Herald-Sun, Maryborough Gift & 'Pedestrianism'

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http://www.heraldsun.com.au/sport/under-starters-orders-for-a-renaissance-in-pro-athletics/story-e6frf9if-1225980112178



Matt Carter raises his arms in victory in the 150th running of the Maryborough Gift. Picture: Daryl Pinder Source: Herald Sun

Under starter's orders for a renaissance in pro athletics

By David Griffin
Sunday Herald Sun
January 02, 2011


AN EVENT with origins older than the Melbourne Cup celebrated its 150th running in Maryborough.

First run in 1857 and halted only by World War II, the $26,000 Maryborough Gift meeting maintains a charm that draws on a rich Scottish heritage.

While not attracting the attention of the Stawell Gift, the Maryborough event is without historic equal on the Australian athletic scene but unfortunately highlights a sport fighting to grow after years of struggle.

Mornington Peninsula runner Matt Carter defended his crown, winning the 2011 edition of the 120m race in the time of 12.87sec running off a mark of 2 1/4 metres.

A crowd of 8000, matched only by a locust plague, saw the fast-finishing backmarker swoop with 20m to go, taking home the $8000 winner's cheque from Benjamin Weaver.

"To win two in a row is unbelievable," Carter said in the flush of victory.

"Coming to the Gift today I was only hoping to make the final, but to win it is just crazy.

"This money will go straight into the bank."

Strangely called "Pedestrianism", professional handicap sprinting rose out of the Victorian goldfields in the mid-1800s, with athletes racing for livestock, gold nuggets and cash.

Exclusive to Scotland and Australia, as the years passed "pro" running disintegrated, even the word "professional" became a misnomer, with prizemoney so small it barely covered the athlete's costs.

The 1966 Maryborough Gift champion, Ricky Dunbar, said new activities and a change in working conditions had adversely affected the sport.

"Years ago it was big. The kids have changed now, it's easier to sit on a computer than to focus on a tough sport like professional running and there are just so many other things to do," Dunbar said.

"The working week used to be Monday to Friday, nine to five, but now we work seven days a week and any hour of the day, so working is the priority, not athletics."

Historical statistics are scarce.

What is known is that in its heyday before World War II there were 400 registered professional running coaches in Victoria. Each coach managed a "stable" of anywhere up to a dozen athletes who competed in professional race distances such as the 70-yard dash, the 550-yard race, the mile and "the Gift" (130-yard sprint).

By comparison, only 600 athletes and 50 trainers registered with the governing body, the Victorian Athletic League, in 2001. In the same year there were 22 professional race meetings, long way short of the 54 meetings conducted in 1954, further proof of the depth to which the sport had plunged.

In line with the decline, the flag-bearer event has also suffered.

The Stawell Gift, Australia's richest, struggles for survival. Considered the Olympics for professional runners, the Stawell Gift's traditions were forged well before the Anzacs landed at Gallipoli. Former athlete and Stawell Gift committee member for the past 28 years John Dalziel remembers a time when it was standing room only at Central Park.

"It wasn't that long ago that we used to have 20,000 people through the gate on the Easter Monday, now we get about 5000 or 6000. We also used to have 30 to 40 bookies betting on the running, now we have only four," Dalziel said.

His memory also drifts to a time when it was the "only gig in town".

"A while ago the Stawell Gift was the only thing on the Easter weekend, but now we are competing with AFL and every town has some type of event taking place over Easter," he said.

"We can't attract the crowds like we used to."

For the first time in its history, the 2011 Stawell Gift final will move from Easter Monday to the Tuesday due to the AFL Anzac Day television commitments.

Joshua Ross, Steve Brimacombe, Dean Capobianco, Cathy Freeman and new glamour girl Sally Pearson have all raced in the "pro" ranks and for the devoted athletes and officials that permeate the sport, there remains a glimmer of hope.

Professional athletic leagues operate in all states and prizemoney in Victoria for the 2011 season has topped $450,000 for the first time. Athlete registrations are also on the rise with 840 athletes running for pay last year, up from 700 in 2007.

These facts, coupled with the 30 race meetings being held this year in Victoria alone, suggest the sport is going through a revival.

VAL chief executive Mark Howard said it had been a focus on youth that underpins the resurgence.

"Three years ago we put a strategy in place focusing on the younger market by introducing a novice and junior race series and since then registrations have increased steadily by 10 per cent every year," Howard said.

With more than 200 Victorian towns and suburbs running Gift meetings since the sport's inception, the historical and cultural significance of professional athletics cannot be ignored.

But the VAL and the Maryborough Gift receive no government support.

While being outsprinted in recent years by the bigger and more powerful sports, the increase in interest coupled with the history of events such as the Maryborough Gift, should give this sport the confidence to at least compete on the bigger stage.



Last edited by Admin on Sun Jan 02, 2011 9:59 pm; edited 1 time in total

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Fantastic coverage in today's Herald-Sun of the Maryborough Gift and pro running in general.

The article is well researched & says all the right things in promoting the sport. The comments from winner Matt Carter, past winner Ricky Dunbar & the VAL's CEO Mark Howard add a good positive tone to the article.

Congrats to the VAL, the Maryborough Highland Society and especially David Griffin who wrote the article.

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word around the val that we may see more prorunning articles in the heraldsun. hope so.

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