Former Commonwealth Games athlete Bangalie Keita celebrates after winning the Macksville Gift.
Former Commonwealth Games athlete Bangalie Keita celebrates after winning the Macksville Gift. Trevor Veale

Keita wins Macksville Gift

AFRICAN-born Bangalie Keita gave a hint of what might be the future of Australian athletics when he won the 57th Country Energy Macksville Gift in a run well outside his heat time.

Coming from the back mark of 4.75m, Keita ran 13.40 seconds in the final but ran the fastest time of the day in the semi with a gallop of 12.76 for the 120 metres.

Now based at Drummoyne in suburban Sydney, the former Sierra Leone national representative became a high-profile figure in 2006 when he and several other team mates fled the Commonwealth Games Village in Melbourne and sought asylum.

“I want to run for Australia, for my new country,” he said after his history-making run.

Filling the placings were Shaun Fletcher (Elermore Vale) off 5.50m with Stephen Sheppard (Watson) off 7.75m third.

The entire carnival was run in sunshine and while the track was well prepared, some soft patches remained from the previous week’s rain.

Evening finals were run in clear and breezy conditions with a noticeable wind down the track from the northeast sometimes swinging around to hit runners in the face.

Despite the fine weather the crowd was down on previous years.

Gift organising committee spokesman Alan Smith said the crowd numbers had surprised his group but there may have been an unexpected reason for the downturn.

“I think the traffic accident at Urunga earlier in the day may have kept away many of the northern visitors from Coffs Harbour and further up the coast,” he suggested.

“They may have arrived at the spot and after realising this would be a major delay, turned back for home.

“It certainly had an impact on the arrival of a number of competitors.

“Once they started making contact and advising of the hold-up the Athletic League decided the fair thing to do was run extra heats to give them a chance of qualifying.

“The carnival still ran to time with the extra admissions.

“Apart from that, it was another wonderful day and with the win of Bangalie we’ve added another interesting chapter to the story of the event.”

High-profile female competitor Laura Whaler ran against the men in the Vets 120m and finished third off the 1.50m handicap in a time well outside her personal best.

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