Peter Bol ploughs through rain as weather causes havoc at Stawell Gift | Athletics

Olympic finalist Peter Bol has finished a soggy second in the 1,000m invitational handicap race as a severe thunderstorm played havoc with the program on finals day at the Stawell Gift carnival.

Later, Jack Lacey and Chloe Mannix-Power put their Australian rules football and surf lifesaving backgrounds to good effect, defying the extreme conditions and a two-hour delay to win the Stawell Gift.

Only the second world war and the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 have ever prevented the storied handicap race – which dates way back to 1878 – from taking place. But such was the severity of the thunderstorms in and around Stawell on Monday that there was a real chance the 2024 finals would have to be cancelled or delayed until Tuesday.

“Crazy weather but what a great event,” said Bol, who was fourth in the 800m at the Tokyo Olympics. “I haven’t raced in rain like that since I was a kid. Congrats to Riley [Bryce, who won]. I just left a little too much to do off the last bend. I felt I had a chance to catch him, but he was just a bit strong.”

Heavy rain began falling straight after the Gift semi-finals were run early in the afternoon at Central Park. Organisers chose to push ahead with the next event on the program, the 1000m invitational handicap, with drawcard Bol charging home from the scratch mark to finish a close second behind Bryce.

But lightning strikes then put a halt to the program for more than two hours, before a short break in the weather at 4.30pm provided a window for the two feature finals to be run.

Water covers the running track at Central Park in Stawell. Photograph: Joel Carrett/AAP

In the men’s race, Lacey (9.5m) claimed victory in 12.27 seconds in a photo finish from backmarker Jake Ireland (12.28) and pre-event favourite Endale Mekonnen (12.33).

“I was quite happy with the conditions because it’s a strength of mine to run into a bit of rain,” said 26-year-old Lacey. “The track held up really well, it’s actually still quite hard out there. They worked tremendously to get that ready for us. I used to play footy, so I love the wet.”

Lacey first came to Stawell as an 11-year-old back in 2009, when his older brother Max saluted in the backmarkers and novice 400m races.

“I just got tacked into it, which is a great thing,” said the Melbourne-based runner, who plans to put the $40,000 winner’s cheque straight on to his mortgage. “I love this sport … just followed straight through.”

Women’s Gift winner Mannix-Power was even more at home than Lacey in the rain and high drama on Monday.

“It’s a little bit like surf lifesaving,” said the Queenslander, who gave her coach Brett Robinson yet another triumph at Stawell. “You rock up to the event with no program and you just have to be ready on the line when they marshal you.

“And that’s what we did. We were actually praying for the rain – it suits us. It’s like running on the beach.”

Racing off the backmark of 4.25m, the 23-year-old Mannix-Power stopped the clock at 13.42 ahead of Chloe Kinnersley (13.53) and Jemma Pollard (13.54). She nearly gave up competitive running two years ago, before being coaxed back by Robinson.

“He was like ‘we’re not quitting because we can do some things together’,” she said. “We came down here last year and I was always like ‘I wish I could win one of those’. I believed Robbo and he said ‘let’s go and win one’.”

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