STRATHFIELDSAYE’S Michael Preece, Flora Hill’s Jack Dooley and Junortoun’s Lonain Burnett celebrated New Year’s Day by winning finals at the Maryborough Highland Gathering.
Preece, 18, contested his first race on the Princes Park track and bolted to an emphatic victory in the Harvey World Travel backmarkers 1600m.
A few hours earlier and Dooley won his first final on the Victorian Athletics League circuit in the Blue Ribbon Foundation novice 120m, which was later followed by a second placing in the Sportz Biz novice 400m.
Burnett made it two wins in as many starts at Princes Park as he took out the Treble Jewellers 800m.
The teenager, who is coached by John Knott and Steve Hocking, raced off 58m and won in 1:51.6
In the 120m, Dooley raced off the 10m mark and won the fourth and final heat in 12.82 seconds.
The Peter Barrett-trained athlete then clocked 12.44, which was the second-fastest of all 120m races at Princes Park, to win the final in a personal best.
“I had qualified for a few finals at VAL meets over the years, but never had a win,” Dooley said.
“It’s a relief, as well as exciting, to have had a win.”
Dooley said he gained a lot of confidence from his heat which flowed into the final and later the 400m.
Racing off a mark of 32m, Dooley won heat two in the novice 400m and upped the ante in the early stages of the final.
Although he was three or four wide shortly after the start, the Flora Hill-based athlete quickly moved up in pursuit of limit marker Danielle McDowell (87m).
Dooley hit the lead near the scoreboard and led on to the finishing straight.
In the last few metres, Ballarat’s Samuel Baird pounced to breast the tape just ahead of Dooley who tumbled just after crossing the line.
“I was hurting the last few metres, but thought I had the win,’’ Dooley said.
“It was not to be,” said the South Bendigo Athletics Club member.
Dooley said he would aim for a late entry into the open 70m, 120m and 400m for this weekend’s Devonport Gift carnival.
In the 1600m, Preece was co-backmarker off 100m following the scratchings of Maiden Gully’s Cody Williamson (70m) because of injury, and Matthew McDonough (95).
Preece, 18, showed he was not overawed by the occasion as he powered to the front as the bell sounded.
His last 500 metres were outstanding as he won in 4:09.44 and was more than three seconds clear of runner-up David Spence (125m).
An emotional Preece hit the grass several times before being congratulated by the rest of the field.
“I have put in a lot of hard work for today,” Preece said after being presented with the sash and cheque.
“The plan was to go out as hard as I could and then settle into tempo. I was a bit surprised to be in front at a lap to go, but just knew I had to keep on pushing.”
He raced more than 15 metres clear approaching the home straight.
“This race was one that my coaches, John Burke and Neil Macdonald, had said I could win. “
Among those cheering were his parents, Shane and Linda.
Their support is incredible,” said Preece, who competed year 12 VCE at Bendigo Senior Secondary College last year.
Preece plans to be back training tomorrow as he builds up for state and national championships.