SOUTH Australia’s Chris Innes-Wong and West Footscray’s Gus Carty-Cowling have stormed into contention for the 2014 Australia Post Stawell Gift.
Both recorded impressive heat wins on Saturday and will be among 42 semi-final hopefuls vying for gift glory.
Only the six semi-final winners will go through to the final for a shot at the $40,000 first place prize.
Innes-Wong, running off an 8.75-metre handicap, clocked the sixth-fastest time in heats.
“I’ve only been running seriously for a year,” he said.
“Before that I’d never done athletics in my life.
“I’ve trained harder this year than I’ve ever done for anything.”
The 27-year-old, who is coached by 1985 Stawell Gift winner Paul Young, made his first appearance at Stawell last year and has firmed from a 101-1 outsider to being one of the favourites.
Carty-Cowling, who recorded the second-fastest qualifying time off an 8.5-metre handicap, and pack leader Isaac Dunmall, who ran the fastest time of 12.32 seconds from a mark of eight metres, have also been locked in as contenders.
Queenslander Dunmall, 20, said after his heat he was hopeful of a quicker time on Monday.
“I’ve torn hamstrings twice in the lead-up, so my preparation’s been a little bit off,” he said
“Hopefully I can get a bit quicker and make that final.
“I wanted to go a lot quicker, but that’s the way it goes.”
Former Stawell Gift winner Sam Jamieson, of Williamstown, won heat three in a time of 12.403, while fellow contenders John Adams, Edward Ware and Luke Versace all went under 12.45 seconds.
Seventeen of this year’s semi-finalists also reached the same stage last year, while three of last year’s finalists – Tim Eschebach, James Vine and Ryan Camille – have reached the semis.
However, reigning Stawell Gift winner Andrew Robinson narrowly missed qualifying for the semi-finals, running a time of 12.88.
Current Australian female 100-metre record-holder Melissa Breen also failed to qualify after starting from the limit mark of 10 metres.
Breen, who was attempting to become the first female semi-finalist, finished her heat in a time of 12.95 seconds. In the State of Victoria Strickland Family Women’s Gift, three Wimmera runners – sisters Julia and Tiffany Boatman, and Ararat’s Sarah Blizzard – will look to push beyond the semi-finals, while Willaura’s Fraser Heard has qualified for the ASICS Bill McManus Backmarkers 400-metre final.
The six 2014 Australia Post Stawell Gift semi-finals will start at 12.40pm, with the final at 2.45pm.
The final will be broadcast live on ONE.