For many years the event has struggled to get off the ground, but the countdown is on to the 2021 Mount Gambier Gift Carnival which ignites at Vansittart Park on Saturday.
It will be just the second edition of the special running event in a decade after 2020 was cancelled due to uncertainty around COVID-19 regulations, which followed an eight-year hiatus from 2011.
In the tradition of the famous Stawell Gift and Bay Sheffield footraces, around 100 athletes from Adelaide, Victoria and Mount Gambier will start on different handicaps, which means quality backmarkers will be chasing down front markers in a series of races between 70 and 1600 metres in what will be a highly entertaining spectacle.
Mount Gambier Gift organiser Natasha Little said there is a lot of hype around the region surrounding the return of the dash in the park.
“The excitement has been building and we are looking forward to a great weekend,” she said.
“We have had a fantastic response from the local community in regard to sponsorship and we have also got some local runners and the Little Athletics League getting involved as well.”
South Australian Athletic League president Colin Rowston said there is also plenty of anticipation at the state level.
“The Mount Gambier Gift Carnival has been a very popular event on our calendar in the past,” he said.
“After a hiatus of several years and a cancellation last year due to COVID-19, we are all excited to be back in Mount Gambier again this year.”
Little said it has been months in the making to ensure this event could go ahead in the current climate.
“What happened was I got approached by the South Australia Athletics League to be their local contact with my new business Five Little Events to help promote it,” she said.
“So, over the last two months I have worked extremely hard to gain the community support and I was always confident we will have an event.”
Leading the local charge will be talented Mount Gambier athlete Hayden Crowe.
At just 16 years of age the speedy teenager stunned the running world at the 2021 Stawell Gift Carnival last Easter.
Competing in Australia’s richest footrace dating back to 1878, Crowe finished second in the 200m Men’s Open final and made an impression in the Under 18 100m and 400m events.
He flies into his first ever major home running race in sparking form after tearing up the ASA All Schools event and State Relay Championships recently.
On the All Schools stage Crowe collected some medals by running a blistering personal best of 49.19 in the 400m race which smashed both of the Under 18 and 20 National Qualifying times.
One week later Crowe was back on the running track and teamed up with Shyla Fosdike to collect seven medals at the State Relay Championships with the assistance of coach Sally Taylor.
All the medals and fast times means Crowe is cherry ripe to attack a long-awaited race in front of his home crowd.
He will compete in the 70m, 120m and 400m races and Little said will lead the strong local charge.
“Hayden and Shyla did exceptionally well at the Relay Championships and there will be a couple of other local runners in action as well,” she said.
“Hayden will be a good contender and definitely one to watch from a local aspect,” organiser Natasha Little said
“We would love to see many come and give the locals plenty of support.”
The locals will be determined to take the challenge up to a star-studded field of travelling entries.
Leading Men’s Bay Sheffield contenders Jacob Aston, Timothy Blyzno and Tjimarri Sanderson-Milera have entered the 120m Mt Gambier Men’s Gift and will be fighting at the front of the field.
Olivia Hastings, Mikayla Round and Kayla Lemm will be using the 120m Mt Gambier Women’s Gift as an important race in their preparation for the 2021 Bay Sheffield Women’s Gift.
The women’s line-up is headlined by the 2021 120m Women’s Stawell Gift champion Hayley Orman.
It will mark the conclusion of a huge week in the athletics world after last weekend’s visit from Olympian Izzi Batt-Doyle and elite runner Riley Cocks.
Little said she hopes the Gift can harness some of the momentum generated by the star pair’s stay and hinted they could return.
“Having Riley and Izzi in the community last weekend was amazing,” she said.
“They inspired the local athletes to see where running can take them and hopefully they can come again next year.
“That is the plan and there are already talks in motion of doing some sessions with some of the senior high schools.”
Elders and the City of Mount Gambier are the major sponsors for the event, with a number of other local businesses coming forward with their support – Banner Mitre 10, Baxter Hire, Coles, Commodore Motel, Gambier Hotel (Matthews Group), I&D Contracting, Key 2 Sale Real Estate, Margaret Street Butchers, Merchy’s Laser, Next Gen Entertainment, North Gambier Football Club, Pine Country Caravan Park, She’s Apples, Shelton’s Butchers, Sims Drilling, Stuckey Electrical and UniSA.
The nation’s leading athletics race caller Terry McAuliffe will call all the action with the first race starting at 1pm before the final race is set to be completed by 6.30pm, while entry is free for all spectators.