Matthew Rizzo celebrates after winning the 2017 Stawell Stawell Gift — can he go back to back? Picture: Getty Images
Matthew Rizzo celebrates after winning the 2017 Stawell Stawell Gift — can he go back to back? Picture: Getty Images

Despard delivers in Stawell Gift final

FOR longer than he cares to remember, Jacob Despard found a little too much comfort in fast food and alcohol.

A supremely talented sprinter, the Tasmanian's gifts were often compromised by off-track habits - and overshadowed by the astounding feats of fellow athlete and former school mate Jack Hale.

That all changed on Monday when reformed Despard charged to an emphatic Stawell Gift victory, earning $40,000, and the conviction a revised diet is a worthwhile sacrifice.

With Hale preparing for the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast, Despard covets a return to Australian representation after a four-year hiatus.

His coach Scott Rowsell has no doubt Despard, who beat Hamish Adams and Gary Finegan in the final in 12.11secs, has the ability to impact internationally.

It’s pure bliss for Jacob Despard after he won the Stawell Gift. Picture: AAP
It’s pure bliss for Jacob Despard after he won the Stawell Gift. Picture: AAP

"I see massive growth in him. He's only 21 and he's got plenty of years to hit his peak," Rowsell said.

"I'd like to see him in the green and gold because just in the last four months he's been over here in Victoria, he's shown he's incredibly strong and resilient."

Rowsell and Hale set out uncompromising standards for Despard to follow and, since moving to Melbourne, he has flourished.

He waltzed through the heats and semi-finals to start a warm $2.5 favourite and saluted comfortably.

"We spoke six months ago and said 'No stone unturned' so the diet was spot on, the sleeping," a jubilant Despard said.

"Everything was for this race. We worked really hard for it.

"I worked on the road back in Tassie and it was just the easiest option to call into a Maccas or something like that.

"I used to go out with the boys for a few beers - sometimes just too much - and that's all been cut out.

"No takeaway, no sugar. I'm feeling a lot better as well.

Jacob Despard has stormed home in the 2018 Stawell Gift. Picture: Getty Images
Jacob Despard has stormed home in the 2018 Stawell Gift. Picture: Getty Images

"I live with Jack Hale and he's at the Commonwealth Games at the moment and seeing the way he prepares, it's got me hungry for that (higher level).

"As soon as I came over I moved in with Jack and pretty much copied what he does and how he prepares and how he eats.

"Maybe another Australian team is in my sights now. In 2014, I went to Oregon for the world champs in the 4x100m relay. It was a bit of a transition from juniors to seniors."

Watched by his family, Despard was the joint backmarker (4.5m) with Matt Rizzo but quickly stormed away from the defending champion, who finished a gutsy fourth.

Despard is only the fourth Tasmanian to win the Stawell Gift in the 137-year history of the illustrious footrace.

"I just love the history," he said.

"This is my sixth consecutive year. I first came here in 2013.

"I kept coming back here and finally got the big one.

"There's something about the atmosphere here and how important Stawell is."

Elizabeth Forsyth erupts after realising she’d won the big race. Picture: Getty Images
Elizabeth Forsyth erupts after realising she’d won the big race. Picture: Getty Images

FORSYTH WINS WOMEN'S STALWELL

WHEN Elisabeth Forsyth scraped through Stawell Gift heats on Saturday, finishing a sluggish third, ambitions of landing a long-range coup faded.

Third in the first of 12 heats, the 21-year-old endured an excruciating wait before learning she had limped into the semi-finals.

Bookmakers, who had offered $11 to the Queenslander's admirers, would have been chuckling.

Their smiles vanished yesterday when the Gold Coast exercise science student conjured an extraordinary revival to dominate both her semi-final and final.

"I wasn't happy with Saturday because I nailed the start and then I let the others catch up and I couldn't get going again," Forsyth said.

"I knew in the semi-finals and the final I just had to nail my start and push through the middle and not allow anybody to get up to me and then hope to hang on."

Forsyth, 21, did exactly that in 13.69secs off a 7m handicap, holding off Pam Austin and Stephanie Jinks third.

Fastest in the semis in 13.85secs, Forsyth entered the final as a raging $1.60 favourite - exploding from the blocks to win clinically.

The pint-sized speedster had been unsure of even competing at Stawell because of a leg injury.

"It didn't look like I was going to be a chance when I got injured," she said.

"I had a really bad nerve problem in my knee and it was causing pain in my lower leg.

"But I've had physio and a lot of treatment from different people - they're really the ones to thank."

An elite beach sprinter, Forsyth ventured to Stawell for the first time last year and said the experience of competing from staggered starts was a factor in her victory.

Athletes of all ages compete at Stawell over the Easter long weekend. Picture: AAP
Athletes of all ages compete at Stawell over the Easter long weekend. Picture: AAP

"The atmosphere was just amazing but the big thing was getting used to having people behind me, having people in front of me at the start," she said.

"Every race I'd done before, everyone had the same start. Getting a few races with the handicaps was definitely a help."

Her coach Brett Robinson had previously succeeded with Matt Rizzo and Murray Goodwin.

He said Forsyth delivered perfectly.

"We sort of just waited until the week entries closed before we decided to have a crack at this," he said.

"I thought we were going to be close enough and 'EJ' said 'Yeah, we're going all in.'

"To her credit, she delivered the race she needed to deliver - a lot of people come to Stawell in good form and walk away with donuts.

"She's an incredible athlete and her preparation has been meticulous.

"We started with the goal of trying to win the Australian beach flags championships and this kind of popped up along the way.

"We still want to go and win the Australian beach flags championships (in Perth in three weeks)."

Working two part-time jobs in a supermarket and news agency to support herself, Forsyth earned $40,000 for the win.



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