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PROTRACK » GENERAL » The teenage-sized Stawell Gift controversy - Handicap racing and how it works - SBS News

The teenage-sized Stawell Gift controversy - Handicap racing and how it works - SBS News

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Rachel De Bear from SBS News contacted me yesterday to learn about handicapping athletes and the situation with the Women's Gift. We had a good discussion and it was terrific to speak to someone with little knowledge of the sport, wanting to know, not to add to the controversy, but to explain it to her readers on the SBS site.

The teenage-sized Stawell Gift controversy

By Rachel de Bear
SBS News
Zela, Paul Young
29 March 2016 - 9:24 PM  UPDATED YESTERDAY 9:44 PM

01 What is handicap racing?

02 How are handicaps worked out? What was Martin's for the Stawell Gift?  .

03 So why the drama?  

Talia Martin won the Stawell Gift under controversial circumstances. Due to "inconsistent racing" she was fined $2000. This is unlikely to faze the winner of a $40,000 prize purse, but it left many of us asking - what the heck is this even about?  

01 What is handicap racing?

To answer this question, we must imbibe a little history. Bored mining folk in rural towns started handicap racing in Australia around the mid to late 1800s.  

Mimicking races held in England's midlands, runners from rival mining camps would race a certain distance and punters would place bets on them, the "gift" a gold nugget - today's $40,000 prize purse.

That's pretty much it.

Because there's betting involved, like in horse racing, handicaps are employed to make it fairer for other competitors.

Put simply, the better a runner is - based on past performances - the more of a handicap is placed on her.

More history stuff

Following its initial beginnings, the set distance evolved to 130 yards (120m in metric) and events like the Stawell Gift have been run and won since 1878 with professional leagues (such as the Victoria Athletic League) popping up around the country almost instantly.

Today, there's a crowded calendar of handicap racing events, 15 in South Australia alone. The three most prestigious events are said to be the Stawell Gift, the Bay Sheffield Gift and the Burnie Gift. The 120m race headlines each event with other races also held.

How are handicaps worked out? What was Martin's for the Stawell Gift?

This is where it gets complicated. Put simply, handicaps are based on past performances.

Paul Young, winner of the Stawell Gift in 1985, and runner up in 1991 works out handicaps for the South Australia Athletic League. He told Zela, handicaps are assessed on the best performances over an athlete's career.

In South Australia, they usually base it on the best five performances. He said the Stawell Gift is based on three.

For 120m runners, their performances in 100m races are calculated to determine a metres per second time. They then calculate the likely time the athlete would cover 120m and work out their handicap accordingly.

As it's super involved for them to work out, we won't even try explaining it here.  

But simply, the performances of national record holder and 2012 Stawell Gift winner Melissa Breen saw her handicap of starting at "scratch." That is, she had to race the full 120m.

While someone like Martin, started her race at the 107m mark, her handicap 13m.  

Her handicap for the two 120m races leading up to the Stawell Gift at Maryborough and Ballarat was 11.5m.  Her times for these events were 14.7 seconds, 14.41 seconds and 14.56 seconds.

So why the drama?
Martin was fined on Saturday before the finals for "inconsistent racing." This was probably due to her 13.697 seconds heat time over 107m, compared to Maryborough and Ballarat she was racing 14.7, 14.41 and 14.56 at a 11.5m handicap.

Martin's coach appealed the fine, it was reduced to $500 but a further $1500 if she won any prize money. Hah!

Many are incorrectly citing her marked improvement from Ararat 12 days before Stawell, including the chief steward of the Victorian Athletics League.

But while Young agrees she should not have raced because of grief over her aunt's death, this event is not eligible for handicap calculations.

Disregarding Ararat, it's still unbelievable for some, including David Culbert, the race organiser.

"You cannot run 14.5 consistently all year - not just Ararat - then come to the Stawell Gift and run 13.7 and expect to get away with it and everyone to say that is fine."

But Young said that with Breen's attendance, the entire Stawell Gift field received a 1.5m "lift". This meant Martin would only need to race 107m not 108.5 - or, a 13m not a 11.5m handicap.  Young also said Martin's handicap had not been calculated correctly.

"She should've been raced "tighter" owing to past performances, including the last two junior Stawell Gifts," he said. "She's on a trajectory as a 15-year-old and this should've also been taken into account."

"Six weeks out (at the Ballarat Gift) from the Stawell Gift, you expect an increase in performance," Young also said.  

There was also a head-wind in the final, which would benefit a 43kg, 15-year-old far more than her rivals.  

Now she's got $38,000 burning a hole in her pocket, plus, she's an extremely talented runner - and she's just going to keep on getting better.

Last edited by Admin on Fri May 20, 2016 8:13 am; edited 1 time in total


Great summary Youngy. The best article yet on the subject.

Opinions are like arseholes……everybody has one. As such, I’ll give mine.

Exum ran the same time as Martin in the Maryborough heats. At Ballarat Martin ran 14.28 adjusted for a head wind and Exum ran 14.17 adjusted. Therefore at Stawell they improved about the same amount. Yet there is no scrutiny at all on Exum.
Add the extra 1.5m to the handicap and Martin would have run 14.08 and the improvement from Ballarat is under .60 and no longer in the extreme range of improvement for 120m from her best recent performances.

The performance at Ararat was not good and inconsistent with Ballarat. It did not appear in the stewards report therefore the run was deemed acceptable. This needed to be dealt with at Ararat and if so the extenuating circumstances around bereavement would have surfaced.

This whole mess is a storm in a teacup and makes me think this is a more of a witch hunt than anything else. I have it on good advice that she was bullied by a VAL official on Saturday before the heats had been run. The official raised his head after seeing Martin was 3rd favourite in betting on the Friday night.

This may be more about jealousy and not wanting another POD runner to win than we all realise.


The whole POD squad starts on inflated marks where everyone else starts off novice marks. That is how she got out so early. So why do these people start on these marks and others who don't train in squads start on novice marks? I think it would be a fairer system if everyone started where they should, and not giving out favourites to the POD squad and their friends from Perth as well.


This thread was questioning what all the fuss was about and about the controversy. That needs to be flushed out and sorted out first.
Once that is sorted then a new subject needs creating regarding junior handicaps in open races. That should be top of VAL agenda once they dig themselves out of this PR nightmare.
The analogy in the paper comparing this issue to a Pakenham maiden versus Melbourne Cup is the worst possible PR for VAL and Stawell. Whilst it is fun to talk like this in the pub it is not what the VAL want quoted in the daily paper.

Last edited by Kangaroota on Wed Mar 30, 2016 12:59 pm; edited 1 time in total (Reason for editing : grammar, spelling)


Further to this. Dunmall ran 12.80 at Keilor to be run out of his semi by Rob Lehamnn and Dion Paull. 12.17 at Stawell. Nothing said.
Trust me, this issue with Martin has been a targetted attack before even running at Stawell. There are many more examples of improvers this year at Stawell but only one has been targetted.


ProTrack A Grader
ProTrack A Grader
So we now know that Kangaroota is part of the POD squad, keep that in mind when reading the posts of Kangaroota going forward


Congratulations to Talia Martin and POD.

Most good runners find a meter or two at Stawell due to a good preparation and faster track conditions.

Some tracks are fast, some are slow.

Some runners lift for the big occasion, some are flat when they have been flogged at training and are racing sore.

There is an issue with Juniors having inflated marks in Open events whilst they are still improving. This needs to be policed better to ensure fairness to all athletes.

This is pro running, there are handicaps, it's run on grass and you can have a bet on it.

Pro running is about colour, flair and entertainment.

Both the men's and women's Gifts were enthralling as always. If you don't like the game, go find a new one.

Let's celebrate the unpredictability and embrace it.


I agree fromscratch.
Well done Talia, your effort in holding off the back markers was courageous as you dealt so well with the pressure.
If one wants to see the fastest runners win then go and rock up at meets like the Athletics Australia National championships or the Olympics.
I enjoy pro running it gives the novice runner and the fastest every chance to have a shot at glory. I also like to go to the main stream athletics to watch the best compete.


'Creative',  congratulations for the most idiotic, unsubstanciated comments ever posted on this forum. Are you accusing the VAL handicappers of being corrupt? If you are going to make accusations like that you might want to produce some evidence to support it!

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