Olympian defends controversial Stawell Gift winner Talia Martin

Former Olympic runner Jane Flemming has said critics should not pass judgment on whether teenage Stawell Gift winner Talia Martin ‘tanked’ a race.

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Questions have been raised over whether Ms Martin could have intentionally run a sub-par time in a previous event, in order to receive a more favourable handicap for the Stawell Gift. 

The Stawell Gift is a 120 metre race featuring contestants in a range of age groups. To make the race fair, ‘athletes are handicapped according to form and ability, and start off varying marks accordingly’.

“I recall improving by vast amounts at around the same age.”

After winning the race and the $40,000 first place prize money, Ms Martin was fined $2,000 for ‘extreme improvement’ from her performance in the Ararat Gift race two weeks prior.

Officials have said the seven metre improvement between the races is more than should be expected in a lifetime. A four metre improvement is considered in the extreme range of performance improvement.

Ms Martin attributed the poor showing at the Ararat Gift to her aunt’s death. Former Olympian Jane Flemming told SBS she thinks it is a fair explanation.

“If you look at the fact she’s a 15-year-old teenage girl, that it’s probably the first time in her life she’s ever had anybody really close to her die, then there are significant contributing factors to that vast improvement. So I think she needs to be given the benefit of the doubt,” she said.

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Ms Flemming also said the incident might encourage race stewards to review the minimum entry age for the race.

“Teenagers invariably improve in leaps and bounds, more so than someone who’s been training full-time for a number of years and that is always going to be the case with teenagers,” she said.

“I recall improving by vast amounts at around the same age.”