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PROTRACK » GENERAL » Leonora Golden Gift lights up as runners descend on small town

Leonora Golden Gift lights up as runners descend on small town

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Leonora Golden Gift lights up as runners descend on small town

By Hannah Barry
WA Today
5th June 2017

Thousands of people descended on the remote country town of Leonora over the WA Day Long Weekend to attend one of Australia's biggest running festivals, and both runners and festival-goers alike were not disappointed.

After months of preparation, the sleepy red dirt town came alive on June 3 to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the Leonora Golden Gift, as Australia's best middle distance runners battled it out on the main street of the town for a chance at the $50,000 golden nugget prize.
Going into the event, the local crowd like to pick favourites. The men's field was locked and loaded with names such as Michael Roeger, Marc See, Jordan Gusman and Stewart McSweyn, while the women's race featured Madeline Hills, Zoe Buckman, Georgia Wassall and Keely Small.

It was an even spread across both fields, and the unique track was soon able to separate the competitors. The Leonora Golden Mile is filled with hairpin turns, aggressive elbows and a few changes in surface used to design trip up the athletes- but eventually it was Jordan Gusman who came out champion for the men's field.

The Canberra local was a favourite heading into the event: a sub four minute miler, he was considered to be one of the most in-form Aussie middle distance athletes. He dished out a fantastic performance, and ran the Golden Mile in 4:03:21, ahead of Stewart McSweyn and Adam Pyke.

"The other track races don't have this kind of aspect to them, in terms of Australian events there is no other experience like this one," he said.

"I guess I'll give the nugget to my mum, I wouldn't know what else to do with it."​

Gusman's win comes off the back of a heavy fall earlier this year, which he feared would impact his chances going into national running meets in the future.

He said Leonora was an important step in establishing himself as a real contender again.

"It was pretty upsetting, it obviously impacted my rank and I knew I had a European campaign which I would put more emphasis on- that's the most important part," he said.

"I know I'm a good racer. I know that I have strong finishes... [recovering] wasn't too hard, just... had to get back at it, and this is the first race since that race [the fall]."

Olympian Madeline Hill also took out the women's event, as she clocked 4:41.22 to win $6000 and a one ounce gold ingot ahead of Brittany McGowan and Abigail Regan.

"I first heard about Leonora about a decade ago and I came three years ago, it's great to get out here and the field is getting stronger," she said.

"I wasn't considering myself the favourite at all, I'd be very excited to come back again."

Hills said she would use her prize money to head to Europe to race.

"The money really helps make this possible," she said.

However, she said she would trade her gold for a pet dog.

It wasn't just the Golden Mile that drew punters throughout the long weekend - the Goldfields Cyclassic also drew competitors from around Australia to compete on the unique Leonora track, with comeback kid Michael Freiberg taking out the 89th Chas Egan Memorial menzies Classic in a blistering finish.

The 2011 UCI World Omnium Champion finished just ahead of Satalyst Verve's Bryce Langdon after the pair broke away from the pack about with about 15km to ride. With an average speed of 45km hr, Freiberg clocked an impressive 2:56:07 for the 132km first stage of the Goldfields Cyclassic.

A number of novelty events were available for athletes and locals to get involved in, and one undisputed best all-round performer emerged as the weekend drew to a close.

WA local Virginia Stasyszyn not only won the first prize at Fashions on the Field at the Leonora Races, but also took out the inaugral women's workbook sprint event.

But the town wasn't all about the athletics all weekend- Leonora is known for taking on a carnival-like atmosphere during the event, with the main street becoming the running track and the surrounding areas dotted with stalls.

The event celebrated its 15th year in style as Eskimo Joe frontman Kav Temperley showcased some never-before-heard tracks, joined by Video Shop and Post Office.

Short sprint events drew crowds of barefoot young girls and boys competing for local notoriety, and events were held long into the evening.

The aim for 2017 was to bring back the family atmosphere the event is famous for, and the hundreds of extra visitors to the town will no doubt be back after experiencing the amazing hospitality of Leonora locals.

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