Lauren Wells has set her sights on success at the Stawell Gift. Photo: Cameron SpencerControversy has overshadowed ‘s richest footrace in recent years but Lauren Wells will race in the Stawell Gift next month the same way she always has ??? running her heart out.
Last year fifteen-year-old Talia Martin controversially took home the $40,000 winner’s cheque, but was fined after stewards said her form improved more in two weeks than most athletes expected in a lifetime.
Wells, 28, who became a dual Olympian in the 400m hurdles at the Rio Games, said officials are stamping out the practice of underperforming before the race, but acknowledged the system isn’t bulletproof.
“They like to see athletes race a couple of times so they’ve got target times and if you run too fast or too slow either side of those times you get an unacceptable performance, which basically means they don’t count your run,” Wells said.
“So you can’t really hide from the handicaps but it is still something us amateurs run into every year, every time we step on the track we run our fastest and often get tough handicaps because of that.
“If there are athletes who haven’t run anything before Stawell there is a chance they’ll arrive in great shape and get a good mark. But that’s just the nature of our sport, you just hope everyone you run against is running honestly because I know in my heart I am.”
Wells broke the 200m hurdles n record last month but the Canberran is preparing to drop down in distance to Stawell’s 120m feature race on April 17.
“I won the 400m last year so I’ll race that again but when there is $40,000 on offer it’s always a good idea to enter and I’ve been working on my speed,” she said.
Wells said the prizemoney was significant but nothing outweighed the prestige of a winner’s sash at ‘s oldest footrace.
“It has such a long and rich and prestigious history and to be able to say I have a sash from the Stawell Gift is really special,” she said.
“To win the 120m gift would definitely be a highlight of anyone’s career, regardless of the prize money, that’s just a bonus. It’s about the honour.”
The nine-time 400m hurdles national champion has lost count of how many trips she’s made to the Victorian town of 6000 people, but knows the 136th edition won’t be her last.
“It’s hard to describe to people who haven’t been there what the atmosphere is like, it’s different to anywhere I’ve raced before and the crowd really gets behind the athletes because of the excitement of the handicap system,” she said.
“There’s a ladies’ day, fashion of the field, you can bet on athletes which is something different, it’s just buzzing as the sleepy little town awakes for four days of action.”