Jana Pittman, John Steffensen to race at Stawell Gift

COMMONWEALTH Games 400m gold medalist John Steffensen will compete at his third Australia Post Stawell Gift carnival this year.

Dual 400-metre hurdles world champion Jana Pittman will also compete on the Easter weekend.

Pittman will compete in the Enduro Sports Nutrition Lorraine Donnan 400m Women’s Handicap event.

Steffensen will try a new challenge this year he runs in the 550 metres for the first time. 

He said he had chosen the WH Earle Handicap 550m event as part of his training regime for middle distance races.

He aims to make the transition into the 800m.

“At this stage of my career I need new challenges to keep things fresh," he said.

"The 800m has always been an event I felt I could do.

"I know I certainly have a lot to do before I become a serious competitor at 800m and the 550m distance at Stawell is an ideal stepping stone for an old 400m runner like me looking to increase my range.”

Steffensen said he looked forward to the carnival.

“I’ve always had a great time at Stawell, racing in the unique competitive environment of handicap racing on grass in front of a large enthusiastic crowd,'' he said.

"There is no other athletics meeting like it.''

Steffensen will race against former Australian champion Lauren Wells and Cameron Moss, who won the 400m at the Bendigo International Madison Carnival last month.

Pittman, 31, said she would use the race to launch her preparations for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

“I’m thrilled to be able to launch my campaign for the Rio Olympics at such a prestigious event,” Pittman said.

“The Stawell Gift has always held a special place in Australian athletics and it will be an honour to compete alongside some of the best sprinters in this country.”

“The Stawell Gift has always held a special place in Australian athletics and it will be an honour to compete alongside some of the best sprinters in this country.” - Jana Pittman

Pittman recently became the first Australian woman to compete at both a summer and winter Olympic Games, after competing in the two-person bobsleigh at the Sochi Winter Olympics in February.

She said competing in the Stawell event would be a challenge after training for shorter sprints for the Winter Olympics.

“It is going to be a long, hard road back to the track and there are no certainties,” Pittman said.

“An event like this is the perfect platform to set a benchmark to work off.

“Considering I haven’t run over 120 metres in two years, it will also be a real challenge to make the distance and probably be fairly entertaining for viewers.

“At this point in my career, it’s really all about relishing the challenges and enjoying my running, and the carnival atmosphere of the Australia Post Stawell Gift is the perfect place to start.”

The 2014 Stawell Gift will run from April 18 to April 21 at Central Park in Stawell.

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