TALLANGATTA'S Lee Forrest sprinted to a dramatic victory in yesterday's $15,000 Bendigo Bank Maryborough Gift final.
The 18-year-old won his heat, semi and final to pocket the $8000 winner's cheque in the 120m duel at the 153rd Highland Gathering.
"This is an amazing feeling," Forrest said shortly after being declared the winner at Princes Park.
Judges called for the photo as it was just millimetres between Forrest and Noddy Angelakos.
Racing at Maryborough for the first time, Forrest raced off the 7m mark and caught Angelakos, 12m, just before the finishing great.
"To have won this final is incredible," Forrest said of a win completed in 12.35 seconds, but achieved after many hours training.
"This is just the the third Gift meet I have competed at."
Rivals in the final included Cam Dunbar, winner of the Maryborough Gift final a decade ago, and Shaun Hargreaves, a regular finalist on the Victorian Athletics League circuit.
An injured leg after a motorcycling crash kept Forrest on the sidelines for most of the 2012-13 VAL season.
The Marcus Arnold-trained sprinter juggled training and year 12 studies at Tallangatta Secondary College in 2013.
Racing plans for 2014 will be as many Gift meettings as possible.
"A lot depends on injury, but I am really keen to race at the big meetings like Bendigo Thousand, Ballarat Gift, and Stawell Gift," Forrest said.
"It's been a great way to start the year."
It was an anxious wait for Forrest as judges checked the video.
"I just ran as fast as I could. The start was one of my best for the day.
"At the finish I couldn't really see across my left.
"I thought it was close, but not was not really sure if I had won."
A win by Forrest at age 10 caught Arnold's attention.
"I didn't start being serious about athletics until I was 16," the teenager said.
He will be keen to return to Maryborough for another tilt at Gift glory in 2015 on the Princes Park track.
Placings in the the 2014 Maryborough Gift final:
Lee Forest 7m 12.346 seconds; Noddy Angelakos 12, 12.404; Dean Scarff 5.50, 12.444; Darren Whittaker 12, 12.588; James Vine 5, 12.606; John Adams 7.25, 12.617; Cam Dunbar 7.25, 12.705; Shaun Hargreaves 6, 12.812.