Matt Rizzo will be chasing successive Stawell Gift wins.Matt Rizzo faces one of the toughest challenges in n athletics at this year’s Stawell Gift Easter Carnival.
The Victorian is attempting to complete back-to-back wins in the 120-metre showpiece.
Winning the world’s most prestigious professional sprint once is tough enough.
Only the legendary Bill Howard has achieved the feat of two consecutive Stawell Gift victories since it was first run in 1878 – winning in 1966 and 1967.
However, there is an air of confidence about Rizzo as he prepares for the heats at Central Park on Saturday ahead of Monday’s semi-finals and final.
Rizzo’s whole focus has been on Stawell this season.
He bypassed the n track and field championships and has not run on the Victorian Athletic League circuit since finishing third in the 70m at Rye on January 13.
“I’ve put all my eggs in the one basket,” he said.
“The focus has all been training since (Rye).”
Coached by fellow sprinter Matt Carter, Rizzo from Langwarrin is happy with his preparation and more than comfortable with his handicap of 4.5m.
“I’m stoked with the mark,” said Rizzo, who won off 7.5m in 12.1 seconds last year as the favourite.
Rizzo says he goes to Stawell a better all-round athlete this year.
“I’ve improved,” he said.
He said while it was much different going to the meet as the reigning Stawell Gift champion, he had no doubt he was again in with a chance of getting the major prize.
“It (the Gift) is wide open, more open than usual.”
Rizzo believes there is a top-end group all with chances rather than any stand-outs.
Other contenders include Jacob Despard (Tasmania), Gary Finegan (Queensland) and Nathan Riali (Victoria), who all ran at the nationals, as well as Ballarat’s Sam Baird.
Rizzo, like every Gift entrant, will have an eye on dual Olympian and two-time Stawell Gift winner Josh Ross.
Ross is returning with the aim of adding to his 2003 and 2005 successes and becoming the first three-time winner of the coveted title.
Now 37 years of age, Ross first won in 2003 off 7m and two years later became only the second winner off scratch.
Ross shares the Gift back mark of 1.5m with Michael Romanin.
The first of 21 Stawell Gift heats on Saturday will be run at 1.21pm.
In the Stawell Women’s Gift, last year’s teenage winner Liv Ryan runs off 4.5m.
Geelong youngster Mia Gross is the backmarker off 1.75m, with 12 heats to be run from 12.27pm on Saturday.