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PROTRACK » GENERAL » No Stawell sting, says Gift champion’s coach (Peter O'Dwyer) - The Courier, Ballarat

No Stawell sting, says Gift champion’s coach (Peter O'Dwyer) - The Courier, Ballarat

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The following article is worth a read (published in The Courier, Ballarat 31/03/16)

THE coach of controversial Stawell Women’s Gift winner Talia Martin has dismissed suggestions his stable was involved in a well-planned sting devised to bring home Easter riches.

Ballarat coach Peter O’Dwyer told The Courier the 15-year-old’s form, including two past junior wins at Stawell, wasn’t consistent with a plot and that her below-par performance in Ararat in the lead-up was because of the death of her aunt.

“Talia effectively improved about three metres from her Ballarat run (in February) – if that’s a sting then we’ll live with that,” O’Dwyer said.

“If she improved three or four metres from her previous junior Stawell Gift win – if that interprets a sting, then that’s a sting. But that’s not a sting, it wasn’t a plan for us.”

O’Dwyer was responding to comments made by former Stawell Gift promoter David Culbert, who told The Age the result had “all the hallmarks of a 1960s Stawell Gift sting.”

“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,” Culbert said.

O’Dwyer said his group of runners and its support staff weren’t involved in any aggressive punting on Martin to take out the $40,000 first prize.

“Stings usually involve big betting plunges. In our stable, we had over 60 representatives at Stawell and we put $100 in total on Talia,” O’Dwyer said.

“That amounts to just over a dollar each.”

When questioned about his remarkable record in the feature events at Central Park – he coached Matt Wiltshire to Stawell Gift glory in 2012 and the last three women’s gift winners in Holly Dobbyn, daughter Grace and Martin – O’Dwyer said it could be put down to his vast experience.

“Obviously we have an annual plan, we have a plan for everything, we have a proven training program that I’ve developed over 30 years of being in the sport,” he said.

“I know that our training is number one.”

O’Dwyer said his athletes “peak well” and are instructed on how to deal with the mental side of the sport.

He admitted the stable had been lucky with its results to a certain extent.

“You have a look at Talia and have a look at Grace (O’Dwyer), they were both pretty much the slowest qualifiers into the final,” he said.

“At the end of the day, we’ve won some of those races really closely and obviously had a bit of luck on our side. And you need that, but if you’re prepared, luck comes your way.”

Martin was fined $2000 for her vastly improved time in Stawell compared to Ararat.


ProTrack A Grader
ProTrack A Grader
The POD squad would like to thank those who have called and sent messages of support over the past few days - there are too many to thank you all individually. It was fantastic to know that for every jealous and venomous message which have included untruths and malicious content, we have received so many more positive messages of support and congratulations. I will not name and shame those of you who have added your names to bile messages – you know who you are; but also the pseudonym messages who do not have the courage to ascribe their names to their aspersions.

Athletics coaching entails many physical attributes; however, the psychological aspects are just as important. It is a shame that a 15 year old girl has to be exposed to hateful messages by these perpetrators, but it is rewarding to see that her resilience and tough mental courage is seeing her in good stead at this time when she should not have to be exposed to such negativity. Ta has shown wisdom and intelligence beyond her years during many Media interviews this week and has conducted herself in a calm, humble and natural manner. The VAL should be capitalising on what this remarkable young lady has to offer, rather than the current negative publicity. The mental toughness that Ta possesses is an integral part in her achieving victory at Central Park last Monday.

The POD squad does not blame the Stewards or the Handicapper, they were trying to do their job by interpreting some ambiguous inconsistency rules. There are numerous examples of inconsistent performances throughout the VAL season. Most of the girls running this year were inconsistent at some point in the year - even Australia’s fastest female sprinter was inconsistent, and she would have absolutely no reason to be. The rules need to be changed to ascertain an athlete’s best performances not their poorest performance when applying inconsistency rules. Why interpret the rules to isolate one poor performance and not look at Ta Martins previous best performances, and her two successive Junior girls Stawell gift wins - you don't win any race at Stawell without running to the best of your ability. Ta has now won at Stawell 3 times. This year’s Stawell Gift was not her first win at Stawell or in the VAL.

If the VAL rules allow a 14m limit then don't be surprised if someone wins from these out marks. Last year’s runner up had 14m and this year’s winner 13m - while I don't agree with such big limits they are the rules and I believe that the limit should be more like 12m. Ta won the race by .02sec and only achieved target time, to be honest and for what it's worth we believed prior to the race that Ta's time of 13.75 ish was only an outside chance of making the final, given that other runners including good amateurs were handicapped to run quicker.

As a squad we supported our neighbouring gift at Ararat, which the VAL declared to be a non -penalty meeting. We thought we had nothing to gain or lose by competing at Ararat, as Stawell handicaps had already been declared. (As a consequence of competing at Ararat Ta has suffered significant penalties). It has been well documented that Ta and her family competed at Ararat whilst mourning the loss of a close family member (who was a great pro running supporter!).

Suggestions that there had been a betting sting by our squad when betting opened on Good Friday are untrue as the total of the squads betting placed on Ta was $100 and we had over 60 representatives at Stawell.
Some media comments by the Chief Steward were unfortunate; however, we have empathy for him as he was trying to defend his position.

It has also been disappointing to witness articles from leading athletics commentators who have used misinformation, and not considered best performances when penning their article in newspapers.



Starting from scratch loses Gift hunt thrill | From the Press Box with Melanie Whelan ~ The Courier, Ballarat April 02, 2016

Scratch handicaps in the Stawell Gift carnival.

Get rid of them and start everyone off scratch – powering off the same mark, running the event’s full distance.

But then you missed a crucial part in handicap racing. You miss the hunt.

Ballarat teenager Talia Martin’s Stawell Women’s Gift win has been overshadowed by those questioning the sport’s integrity and relevance. Martin was fined $2000 under an ‘extreme improvement’ rule for a slow run made 12 days out from Australia’s richest footraces, yet after Stawell handicaps had been declared.

Press Box understands Martin was fined on the Saturday of the carnival, after heats and well clear of the semi-finals and title race on Easter Monday.

Water-cooler talk should be questioning the need for rule clarification or changes to improve the sport and make it fairer. Perhaps the flexibility to alter handicaps during a carnival.

Handicap competition, in any sport, will always be flawed to an extent. For all the mathematical calculations and theories, the field will never truly be fair while some athletes get a greater head start than their rivals.

The essence of handicap racing is continued racing, consistent racing and the fire to beat oneself. Handicaps are based on previous results.

It should be almost a lottery to pick a winner because mathematically a backmarker off the true start line should finish in the gates the same as a rival dished the limit (maximum) handicap out front. This is why the sport is so popular with bookmakers and fans keen to take a punt.

There are standards in deviations from the norm to prevent those trying to beat the handicap game – and there are stewards to patrol this. But that gets athletic purists ruffled because there is a degree of subjectivity.

Ideally, promoters and fans want to see the best runners in Gift finals. Stawell traditionally attracts big names like Australia’s fastest woman Melissa Breen or former world’s fastest man in Jamaican Asafa Powell.

Running headline acts off the same start as Gift regulars kills the lottery effect.

The best part of watching a professional running race is watching top, quality athletes mowing down their opponents. There is great satisfaction as a runner passing rivals, checking them off one-by one on your way to the finish line. This is perhaps magnified in sprinting, a discipline of explosive power.

In contrast, professional runners who start out on a mark often speak of a rival thundering behind them, invoking a flight response akin to fleeing a predator.

Amateur running, like in the Olympics, all of the same mark is about being the best.

Professional running is a whole other mental game.

Athletes of varying abilities and age each stand an equal chance. A young gun like Talia Martin can line up in a race with an athlete of Breen’s calibre. Mentally, she has to fend off the chase.

An elite athlete like Breen returns to Stawell for the hunt. Breen is highly determined, fiercely competitive and can turn to Gift running to perfect her hunt.

Marks add an unknown thrill element that must stay, even if slightly flawed. Rules can always be tightened.

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