Elite athletes racing local runners for prize money on a grass track in handicapped races. No it’s not the twilight zone….it’s Austrailia’s Stawell Gift. This quirky set up belongs to Austrailia’s oldest foot race. In fact, it has a longer tradition than practically every other track meet not named the Olympics. The Stawell Gift has been run every Easter weekend at Central Park, Stawell in western Victoria (Austrailia). While several events are run at the meet, the main event is the Gift race. John Smith, Patrick Johnson, and Joshua Ross are among the more notable athletes who have run in the gated alleys of the Stawell Gift.
The first edition of the Stawell Gift was run in 1878 and the race has been run every year since except for four years during World War 2. Each year, on the Saturday before Easter 24 heats are run, with the winner of each heat advancing to the semi-finals. The same selection method is used for advancing from the semi-final to the final. While the surface (grass) and distance (120m) are odd, it’s the handicap that makes the Stawell Gift both unique and exciting. The competitors don’t start the race from a common location. Those who have run slower times get a head start. This system usually ends up pitting local runners against international professionals….with the locals often coming in on top…..maybe this is the twilight zone?