April 17, 2017

Caitlin Hawks races down the line on day one of the 2017 Stawell Gift. Photo: Luke Hemer

CAITLIN Hawks may not be the quickest out of the blocks — but it hasn’t stopped her from reaching the semi-finals of the 120m Australia Post Strickland Family Women’s Gift.

The Nathalia 400m hurdle specialist admitted she was one of the slower starters in Stawell’s most prestigious track event on Saturday.

She ran off a 8.5m handicap, winning her heat in the seventh fastest time overall of 14.0 seconds.

‘‘After nationals I started doing a lot of sprint training,’’ Hawks said.

‘‘I was focusing a lot on my sprint starts as I’m probably slower out of the blocks than most being a 400m runner.’’

Six semi-finals were taking place today at 11.50am to decide the places for the final at 1.50pm the same day.

‘‘Only the winner from each semi-final heat gets to go through to the final,’’ Hawks said.

‘‘It all depends on the luck of the draw as to whether there’s another girl faster than me in my heat.’’

She would need to finish around the 13.6 second mark to secure a place in the final and a shot at the $40,000 winner’s purse.

Hawks felt she still had more to give after Saturday and could knock-off the .4 given she had fewer nerves ahead of the semi-finals.

‘‘I was really focused on making the semi-finals (on Saturday) so I should be more relaxed (today),’’ she said.

It was Hawks’ third attempt at the Gift after making the final in 2015 and coming second in the semi-final heat in 2016.

‘‘I didn’t realise how prestigious the race was when I first started running in it,’’ Hawks said.

‘‘Ever since I made that first final I’ve wanted to win it and each year I get closer it makes me even hungrier to go that one better.

‘‘Last time I ran the final it was pouring rain so hopefully this year we have better weather,’’ she laughed.

Hawks was due to race in the 550m and 400m events yesterday but was encouraged by her coach Mark Ladbrook to instead rest up ahead of the sprint.

‘‘I definitely prefer training for the 120m,’’ Hawks said.

‘‘It’s over a lot quicker and doesn’t hurt nearly as much as the 400m hurdles.’’

Speaking of hurdles, current Australian 400m hurdles champion Lauren Wells will also be starting in today’s semis after winning her heat in 14.01sec.

But Hawks will face a much bigger ask than Wells if she reaches the final, where she would be almost certain to run into Papua-New Guinea’s Toea Wisil, who is the unbackable favourite.

Based out of Queensland, the dual Olympian, running off scratch, clocked a sizzling 13.89sec to easily win her first heat on Saturday.

“I’m excited to be here,” she told media after that run. “For me, whatever handicap I get I will take it as a challenge in a positive way.”

Two weeks ago Wisil conquered Australian record holder Melissa Breen, and is almost certain to meet her again in the final.

Breen finished second on Saturday but her time was enough to get her through to the next round.

But the biggest story coming out of the women’s race in Stawell has been a massive betting plunge on teenager Liv Ryan. The 16-year-old’s odds collapsed from $31 to $2 just before she finished second in her heat — but with the third-fastest time overall.

Apart from being a major upset, if Ryan did win today she would be maintaining a hot run as schoolgirls have won the past two events.

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