Stawell Gift win a long time coming for Luke Versace

STAWELL Gift victory has been a long time coming for Luke Versace.

Twelve years ago, he had his left leg gored while running with the bulls in Spain.

In 2005, he placed third behind two-time winner Joshua Ross.

On Monday, the 31-year old completed his lifelong dream of winning the prestigious Stawell Gift, claiming victory in one of the closest results in the event’s rich, 133-year history.

“I came into this sport and this was the only thing I ever wanted to do,” Versace said.

“It was about this and only this.

“I probably hadn’t made the sacrifices that I needed to to have this moment, but having it now is just ridiculous.”

“I probably hadn’t made the sacrifices that I needed to to have this moment, but having it now is just ridiculous.” - Luke Versace

Officials took several minutes to deliberate over a photo finish, after Versace and West Footscray’s Augustine Carty-Cowling went neck-and-neck at the finish line.

Less than a millisecond separated the two, with Versace, coming off a handicap of 10 metres, finishing 0.005 seconds ahead of his nearest opponent in a time of 12.268 seconds to claim the $40,000 prize.

But in his fifth attempt at gift glory, Versace believed his opportunity had slipped.

“I believed I’d lost,” he said.

“Going across the line, I knew I was right in it and originally my thoughts were if they offer me a dead heat right now I’ll take it.

"When I watched the replay I thought, gee that’s tight.”

The Hawthorn East resident said chasing gift glory had been a long term goal.

“I’ve always believed that I could be a Stawell Gift winner,” he said. 

“Probably in about 2001 I thought I could win this, and in 2002 I was gored by a bull and thought I’d like to win this but it’s probably going to be an uphill battle.

“When I was in hospital, I promised myself going into surgery if I get right, I am going to win the Stawell Gift.”

“When I was in hospital, I promised myself going into surgery if I get right, I am going to win the Stawell Gift.” - Luke Versace, 2014 Stawell Gift winner

Last year, his wife laughed as he lined up – 12 kilograms heavier than he is now – to run at Stawell,

“Seriously, I looked over and she had tears streaming down her face – I was getting ready for the gift and she tells the story that I was so fat I couldn’t get the bib over my stomach,” Versace said.

“Now that is not entirely inaccurate, but certainly a desire to succeed and probably a bit of vanity helped me get here.”

Versace announced his retirement immediately after the win.

“I knew coming into this weekend this was win or bust, if I came second, if I came 20th, it was over,” he said.

“There’s absolutely no chance of me making a comeback, I am more than happy to live off this for a lifetime.”

Versace, a qualified lawyer, said his coach Brad Armstrong had played a major role in his success.

“I don’t know how many people have ever had a Stawell Gift coach who’s younger than the athlete,” he said. 

“He’s always had an unwavering belief in me and that’s a rare thing.”

“He’s always had an unwavering belief in me and that’s a rare thing.” - Luke Versace about coach Brad Armstrong

Former Stawell Gift winner Sam Jamieson rounded out the top three, with John Adams and Ryan Camille next in line.

Adams became the seventh runner in the final, after his semi-final protest was upheld.

Christopher Innes-Wong – who was heavily backed from 101-1 to 3-1 – finished sixth, while the fastest qualifier in the heats, Isaac Dunmall, finished seventh.

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