Ten-year-old Olivia Hunter became the youngest winner in the fifty-five year history of the Stawell Amateur Athletic Club, when stride for stride she matched deceptively tiny motors with twelve-year-old Sienna Santuccione in the five kilometre Stephen Baird Handicap at Stawell on Saturday.
Olivia had a mere four second margin on Sienna at the top of the steep and punishing hill that ends the race, but really it seemed unfair to separate them because it was a shared effort between friends chattering away and happily in-synch until the very last gasp.
Sienna has joined the May 50 km challenge, raising funds for Multiple Sclerosis research by running fifty kilometres through the month of May and Olivia has been by her side in support.
In their wake, more than a minute away in third place was recent winner Marnie Portelli with debutant Tom Rodgers salvaging some respect for the men just a few seconds behind.
But really this race and this season is all about girl-power (or schoolgirl power in this case) which is fast changing the dynamics of recreational running.
Seven races are down and six have been won by females. Males have occupied just seven places on the podium from a possible twenty-one, and on Sunday fourteen of the twenty-two starters were female.
The trend has been burgeoning for some years now. When previous youngest winner, then eleven-year-old Will Moloney, blitzed the “oldies” in 2019, females finished second and third and won as many races as the males that year.
Talented as he is Moloney, like most boys of his age, found the lure of football too great and is running’s loss, but Olivia is not yet lost to netball.
“She played netball before the run,” said mum Naomi Hunter, who finished fifth on Saturday. “It was a bit of a last minute decision for her to take on the seniors, but she’s had a taste of the 5 km, running with Sienna earlier in the season and that presented more of a challenge for her than the Sub-Juniors race.
“She’d probably like to run longer races but there’s plenty of time for that, especially with the three kilometre regional cross country races coming up at the end of this month which will be better for her.”
A more even spread of girls and boys contested the one-kilometre Sub Junior event with toddler Eva Harrison surprising the “battling brothers” Flynn and Willow Davies to win easily.The club joins the Stawell and Ararat Cross Country Club at Great Western this Saturday for the eight kilometre Best’s Wines Cross Country Classic on a user-friendly course.