Stawell Gift winners to return for title defence

RETURNING CHAMP: Matthew Rizzo celebrates after his 2017 Stawell Gift win at Central Park. Picture: PAT SCALA
RETURNING CHAMP: Matthew Rizzo celebrates after his 2017 Stawell Gift win at Central Park. Picture: PAT SCALA

2017 Stawell Gift and Stawell Women’s Gift winners Matt Rizzo and Liv Ryan will return to Central Park to defend their titles later this year.

Melbourne’s Rizzo was the pre-race favourite and held on to win the 2017 120m Gift off 7.5m in a life-changing moment for the university student.

Rizzo said it would be an even bigger achievement to win back-to-back Stawell Gifts.

“It would be such an honour to enter that category of back-to-back winners, but you cannot get ahead of yourself,” he said.

“This year will definitely be tough, but I am trying to stay positive. I have a bigger engine this time so I feel like I could still improve on last year.”

Rizzo will be joined by Ryan, who continued the recent trend of teenage winners, with the 16-year-old winning from 11m.

Ryan said it was an amazing experience to win the Stawell Women’s Gift and looked forward to experiencing the buzz again.

“It was incredible, the best day of my life,” she said. “It will be a lot harder (this year) with the handicap but I will be happy as long as I produce some good times and hopefully a personal best.”

Stawell Athletic Club President Kieren McIntosh said he was pleased to see both athletes return.

“It’s an incredibly difficult feat to win back-to-back Stawell Gifts, only one person has ever achieved that and no woman in the history of the Stawell,” he said. “The beauty of these handicapped races is that you just never know, both Liv and Matt are in good form, so let’s just see if 2018 could be the year of the double.” 

The Stawell Gift will be run at Central Park during the Easter weekend with the finals to take place on April 2.