By CHRIS YOUNG
A STAR-studded field was unable to reign in the front markers at the Albury-Wodonga Gift on Saturday night.
Melbourne-based veteran Craig Mair ran a time of 12.42 seconds from 14 metres to finish ahead of Albury’s Daniel Steinhauser and reigning champion Luke Stevens.
The 38-year-old had been kept out of the Gift because of injury for the past three years, but made no mistake in what was his first run in Albury.
“I felt really strong at the finish, and I got off to a fairly good start I thought,” Mair said after the race.
“I haven’t run this fast in years.
“I think I was fairly lucky to get through the semi-final, I had a cramp in my hamstring and I wasn’t too sure about how I’d go in the final.”
The athletics coach, from Kangaroo Ground in Melbourne, took home $10,000 for his efforts, and said he was as nervous as he’d ever been going into the final.
“I couldn’t believe the amount of nerves I had going into it,” Mair said.
“Usually I’m pretty cool and collected but I gathered myself, and I was able to channel that pressure positively.”
It seems almost mandatory for Gift winners to have a connection to Albury, with Mair being the grandson of former Albury mayor and NSW MP Harold Mair, who died in 2011.
Mair said he was already looking forward to coming back and defending his title.
“I think this has been an absolutely perfect event,” Mair said.
“The weather was fantastic, there’s a great crowd and a lot of support locally for it.
“Next year I’ll have to bring the team up as well, the kids aren’t going to believe I actually won.”
Cassandra Anderson, from Doncaster, won the women’s Gift, with the finalists breathing a sigh of relief after Australian 100-metre record holder Melissa Breen came third in her semi-final, starting well behind scratch.
Anderson started from 23.5m, leading from start to finish in a time of 13.50 seconds.
The 22-year-old admitted to some nerves at the starting line, but successfully held off a fast finishing pack to take home the $3000 prize.
“I’m absolutely stoked,” Armstrong said. “My coach Nick Fiedler is fantastic, I wouldn’t have won without him pushing me every time I train.
“I think we were all a bit nervous seeing Melissa’s name on the line-up so we were a bit lucky she wasn’t there in the final.
“With that said it was a great opportunity to see one of Australia’s best athletes go about her business, I was able to watch her start in her heat, so for us it was certainly a great learning experience.”
The fastest footballer came right down to the wire, with Murray United’s Jaxon Crowe and Albury Tigers’ Damon Poole neck and neck as they crossed the line.
Crowe, 14, scraped ahead by a nose ahead of Poole, 18, with the training partners at Border Track and Field quick to embrace after their tight finish. Crowe was hoping their coaches would be pleased with their off-season efforts.
“It was great to be able to run so close with Damon, it’s good to be able to improve our fitness this much ahead of the footy season,” Crowe said.