Harrison Kerr has clocked the fastest winning time in 27 years to claim a dominant victory in the Stawell Gift.
The red-hot Victorian justified his pre-race favouritism by dominating the final on a cold Easter Monday at Central Park.
Racing off a mark of 9.25m, Kerr stormed to victory in 11.85 seconds — the fastest winning time in the celebrated 120m handicap event since Glenn Crawford (11.79) in 1995.
The women’s Stawell Gift was a much closer affair, with Queenslander Carla Bull (6m) prevailing in a photo finish in 13.77 from Clare De Salis and backmarker Mia Gross.
The 22-year-old Kerr has been a regular fixture at Stawell for the past eight years, but it has only been recently that he has truly believed he was ready to challenge for major honours.
“I’ve had family members compete here and my brother lives locally so I’ve been up and down (to Stawell) a few times,” the final-year engineering student said.
“(Until now) I just wasn’t ready, I wasn’t going to be able to run those sort of times.
“I just needed the right prep to set up for it.”
That preparation hit a major hurdle in May last year when Kerr injured his shoulder in a suburban Australian Rules football match and was forced to undergo reconstructive surgery.
“I had to have two months off running from that, so I was stuck in the gym doing bikes and core sessions and all the terrible stuff,” he said.
“I knew I had time but I had to do everything right.”
Hamish Lindstrom (7.75m) was second in 12.01, Jesse McKenna — the son of former West Coast AFL great and ex-Gold Coast coach Guy McKenna –was third and scratch marker Eddie Nketia from New Zealand was fourth.
Kerr and women’s Gift winner Bull both pocketed winner’s cheques of $40,000.
The 19-year-old Bull sent a scare through her camp when she picked up a sore throat on the flight from Brisbane to Melbourne on Friday.
“I was a bit worried for the next day,” she said.
“But I just relaxed, made sure I had lots of fluids and did everything I could to prepare.
“I wasn’t too good yesterday, you may have heard my voice.
“But I was a little bit better today which is nice.”
After dominating her semi-final, Bull did it much tougher in the final and was initially unsure if she had crossed the finish line first.
She was eventually awarded the victory, just shading De Salis (13.79) and Gross (13.80).
“Everyone brings their best to the final,” Bull said.
“At halfway everyone was close and in my head I was just ‘focus on the end, focus on the end’.
“That’s all I could think.”
Bull moved from her hometown of Hervey Bay to the Gold Coast two years to pursue her physiotherapy studies and train under noted sprint coach Brett Robinson.
In the other feature event on Monday, Gold Coast Commonwealth Games 1500m finalist Georgia Griffith claimed an impressive victory in the women’s 1000m invitational final.
Racing off a mark of 7m, Griffith hit the front coming off the final bend.
Abbey Caldwell was second and Australian 1500m record holder Linden Hall was third.