Flushed with the success of dual victories in professional ranks already this season, 70-year-old running phenomenon Gary Saunders returned to amateur ranks at Halls Gap last Saturday for an astounding win in the handicap section of the prestigious King of the Mountain.
The man from Deep Lead with the bushy grey beard traditionally gains momentum as the running season rolls on when his formidable 94 kilogram frame becomes conditioned to the weekly grind.
But this year he has had some help.
His son, Philo, a quality runner and a winner at the Stawell Carnival in 2010, is an exercise physiologist and he has devised a programme that Gary says he has “tried to stick to, which is better than not trying at all.”
Missing in action for a couple of weeks after visiting family in Northern New South Wales, Gary still took time out to train, finding some hills at Bellingen that approximated those at Halls Gap.
Wife Helga, a well-known local “foodie,” has also lent a hand by spending less time in the kitchen.
“I used to cook too much and Gary was eating it all and putting on weight so now I give him less and he’s very much fitter.”
So much fitter, in fact, that his margin in the four kilometre climb from Silverband Road to the Sundial Car Park was a staggering 42 seconds.
Surprisingly, the Lois Trimble-sponsored event was dominated by backmarkers who found the sometimes gentle slopes to their liking. Rhonda Clark and Meg Parnaby ran strongly to fill the placings, while the unpredictable Sven O’Flynn (in cut-down jeans!) steamed into fourth place.
First across the line and crowned King of the Mountain for the third time in the past four years was Stawell policeman Nathaniel Warren, whose impressive time of 16 minutes and 15 seconds was more than 10 minutes faster than that recorded by the handicap winner who, of course, is old enough to be his grandfather.
Horsham ironwoman Susie Ellis was seventh on handicap but retained her title as the perennial Queen of the Mountain by being first female to the top for the seventh time in as many attempts.
The Junior division of the race brought sibling rivalry to the fore as sisters Mia and Paris Panozzo fought out the finish, while the hotly-contested Sub-Juniors race saw Georgia Stoate triumph over Luca O’Flynn and Chanel Scollary.
By Keith Lofthouse