Matt Rizzo creates a stir while Dunmall records heat win.

DEFENDING: Isaac Dunmall has started the defence of his Gift title with a strong heat win on Saturday, recording a time of 12.47 seconds. Picture: LACHLAN BENCE

DEFENDING: Isaac Dunmall has started the defence of his Gift title with a strong heat win on Saturday, recording a time of 12.47 seconds. Picture: LACHLAN BENCE

IT WAS a tantalising first day of the 2017 Stawell Gift with contenders spilling blood, sweat and tears to be the fastest on the track.

The main event, the Stawell Athletic Club Stawell Gift, and the Australia Post Strickland Family Women’s Gift heats have been turning heads left right and centre.

Previous competitors of the Gift had come to take part in the three days, to soak in the atmosphere and have their chance at the coveted race. 

First they had to compete in the gruelling heats on day one. Former winner Matt Rizzo was notably the fastest in the heats and looked to be fresh coming into day three and the semi final. 

Rizzo lived up to his status yet again, seeming to leave burn marks in the Central Park grass.

The young man from Langwarrin recorded a speedy 12.10 seconds off 7.5 metres. 

Nathan Rilali is the closest to touching Rizzo on paper, recording 12.32 second win. Rilali is from Yallambie and will be given a task to compete with Rizzo. 

Results were close in the Women’s Gift heats. 

The women looked as fast as ever. The fastest on day one was Taylah Perry, recording a 13.69-second heat win. 

Off the mark of 8.5 metres, Perry lit up the track with her speed in her heat, leaving her competition in her shadow. Ararat’s Sarah Blizzard ran the stretch in 14.04 seconds off a 5.5 metre mark. 

Blizzard is chasing her fourth Stawell Women’s Gift final appearance in as many years.

The 20-year-old has finished second, third and sixth in the past three years and is delighted to be in the running to get another chance at the title.

Heavily backed Donvale youngster Liv Ryan could only manage third to Perry in her heat, but still advanced to the semi-finals with one of the fastest losing times.

While Ballarat teenager and last year’s Stawell Women’s Gift winner Talia Martin finished midfield in her heat, she still did enough to qualify for the semi-finals as one of the fastest 17 losing times.

Toea Wisil, of Varsity Lakes, will be one to keep an eye on after recording the second fastest time in the heats with 13.84 seconds. 

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