Stawell Gift 2016: Controversial Talia Martin victory spurs call for changes

Canberra athletics coach Matt Beckenham says the Victorian Athletics League needs to consider changing its handicap system for the Stawell Gift after Talia Martin's controversial victory.

The 15-year-old claimed the $40,000 winner's cheque on Monday, but was also fined $2000 for an extraordinary improvement in her time. It even drew calls that it looked like a 'sting'.

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Talia Martin's controversial win

Fifteen-year-old Talia Martin won the Stawell Gift on Monday but has been fined $2000 by stewards who questioned her ‘extreme’ improvement in recent weeks.

Having consistently clocked about 14.5 seconds at earlier gifts this year over the 120m distance on grass, Martin sprinted past the finishing post in a time of 13.7s.

She started off a handicap of 13m based on her past performances. All runners were given an additional two metres and women's 100m national record holder Melissa Breen, who was in the field, was running off scratch.

Beckenham also had an interest in the women's final, where Sarah Blizzard finished third, but he praised Martin for her outstanding run.

"There's a part of me that thinks it's not right, but I think it requires them reassessing their guidelines rather than throwing the knives at a 15-year-old girl," Beckenham said.


"To be honest, she shouldn't have won off that handicap, she really ran well in the final. 

"With all the pressure that she handled, my hat goes off to her."

Talia Martin with the Stawell Gift trophy.
Talia Martin with the Stawell Gift trophy. Photo: Getty Images

Beckenham has been on the other side of the ledger. He was coaching Canberra sprinter Tom Burbidge in 2010 when he was the subject of a massive betting plunge before his victory in the Stawell Gift that year.

Burbidge was fined $5000 for inconsistent performances, having run a second slower in the previous events before turning on the afterburners at Stawell.

Beckenham said one of the changes that should be considered was lowering the maximum handicap to 10m – the same as in the men's gift.

"To try and appease everyone, I think it's worthwhile to look at how they go about it and if they bring the limit down to 10m, which would be on par with the men's, which makes sense being such a big gift," he said.

"The key is making sure they have enough women to compete to have the depth it requires.

"This year there were 15 heats in the women's versus 21 or 22 in the men's, so there's a little bit less in terms of the numbers."

Beckenham said having an age limit on the Stawell Gift was not the solution.

"The problem with that is, if we can run them early and a get a positive experience, it enables the handicapper to get an understanding of what the athlete is like," he said.

"If they can't run until they are 18, they will play the game for four years."

He said one idea was to have a junior handicap limit to cater to the natural progression in young athletes.

"You don't have to do a lot as a coach and a 14-year-old is going to improve as a 15-year-old.

"They're meant to really keep an eye on juniors and pull them back each year because naturally they're going to get faster."