Women's Burnie Gift winner Kysha Praciak shares an embrace with coach John Quinn. (Photo: Tas Carnivals)

After five days of nonstop carnival action, the Tas Carnival series culminated with its premier event, the Burnie New Year's Eve Carnival.

After five days of nonstop carnival action, the Tas Carnival series culminated with its premier event, the Burnie New Year’s Eve Carnival.

Held at Burnie’s West Park Oval, this was the 135th running of the carnival, an event only surpassed by Stawell’s equivalent.

The day encased handicapped running, cycling and wood chopping events, and featured a star studded line up across the board.

Warming up for what was to come

Athletes spent the rare wind free, sun filled day, spread across the oval preparing and qualifying for the multitude of events on offer. All with similar goals in mind, pocket some of the exceptional prize money and beat the best athletes in Australia.

The junior and maiden events kicked off at 11:30am, before the crowd got their first taste of what was to come via the 70m sprint and the graded cycling scratch races. The official opening was held just after 2pm, before the main events kicked off at 2:30pm.

World champions galore

First cab off the rank in the main arena was the Henry Munday Memorial Tree Felling. An event that has been pride of place for many years, given Tasmania’s strong history of world champions. This year’s event being no different.

Novice axeman Brad Turner threw woodchips first from the mark of 10 seconds, with Billy Purton swinging a minute behind. The balance of the field was made up by father son duo, past and present world champions, Matthew Gurr (131 secs) and Daniel Gurr (155 secs).

Turner didn’t let the novice tag or the world championship titles deter his efforts, taking out the win. Showing why he is the current world champion, Daniel Gurr made up huge ground for second. Billy Purton rounded out the top three.

Big names miss out

The heats and semi-finals for the men’s and women’s 120m gifts followed, along with the heats of the men’s and women’s wheel races. All races were hotly contested, with varied results for the elite athletes.

The biggest names to call it a day early was seen in the men’s gift. Commonwealth Games representative Jack Hale (Scratch), and in form youngster Jake Doran (0.50m), both missing out, the distance to the front markers proving too much up the hill.

Ending her fairy tale return, local champion Morgan Gaffney (0.75m) also exited early in the women’s gift, after taking out the Devonport 400m Gift a few nights earlier. 

Both wheel races saw a strong contingent of back markers progress, setting the scene for some fast racing in the final.

Sun sets as women start to roll

As the sun set and shadows cast across the oval, the womens 2000m wheel race started the evening’s entertainment. Riders were spread around the track, with an even split of front, middle and back markers. Australian team members Maeve Plouffe, Kristina Clonan and Georgia Baker starting the chase side by side off scratch.

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The front group set the pace early and pushed hard. With a lap to go, it looked like the pace had been too hot with riders dropping off the bunch like flies. As the bell rang, Hobart based Suzanne Strates (250m) put the foot down to leave the front pack behind, managing to hold on and win comfortably.

A fast finishing Felicity Wilson-Haffendon (190m) and Jessie Sawer (190m) finished second and third respectively.

Backmarkers race to lose

Next up was the men over 3000m. With a third of the field between scratch and 45m, including Australian team members Luke Plapp and Thomas Cornish, it looked set to be a hot pace from the outset.

Three solid groups formed from the first lap. The middle markers, lead by TIS riders Jack Menzies (180m), Dalton Stretton (180m) and Hamish McKenzie (180m), closed the gap to lead by lap three. Come the bell, it looked clear the pace was just too fierce for the chasing pack.

McKenzie pulled clear, as the riders headed down the hill for the last time, holding on up the final straight for the win. A desperate Liam Walsh (135m) finished second, with local hope Stretton, third.

A taste of the future

Sights then turned to the centre of the oval, as the finalists of the womens gift were introduced. The field was comprised of Amy Pedder (11.50m), Emma Penney (10.00m), Kiani Allan (4.40m), Kysha Praciak (4.25m), Mia Gross (1.00m) and 16 year old Queensland sprint sensation Torrie Lewis.

Lewis was fresh off her 11.33sec 100m, which made her the 14th fastest Australian female all time. She would need to chase them down from half a meter behind scratch.

Penney launched out to lead from Pedder at the gun. Gross surged through the mid race stages to look a likely type. As Gross came shoulder to shoulder with Praciak, the former Tasmanian now residing in NSW, found something. Praciak pulled away to claim a convincing victory.

Gross held on for second from a late surging Lewis, proving her class from such a mark. One to watch in the future.

Kysha Praciak
Women's Burnie Gift 2021
Kysha Praciak (Blue) lunges for the win in Women’s Burnie Gift 2021
Others Pictured: (left to right) Amy Pedder, Emma Penney, Kiani Allan, Mia Gross, Torrie Lewis
(Picture: Tas Carnivals)

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A bee’s diaphragm

The men’s gift followed, without any genuine back markers to contend with for the group. Victorians Ryan Tarrant (5.50m) and Jesse McKenna (6.25m) looked the pick after having set the times to beat all day.

However, Michael Moschou (6.00m), Ross Lovell (9.50m), Jordan Maynard (11.25m) and Adam French (12.75m) wanted their piece of the prize pool as well.

Maynard exploded from the blocks to lead by a few meters mid way down the track. Like clockwork, McKenna and Tarrant started to wind up. The two favourites pulled away from the group in the closing stages, hitting the line together.

Unable to split them with the naked eye, the crowd was silent. It was a nervous four minutes before the scoreboard lit up with Tarrant’s name, the time keeper needing to go to the thousandth of a second to split the two apart. Commentator Grant Penney calling it “a bee’s diaphragm.”

Moschou filled the last place on the podium.

Under the lights

With the oval now fully under lights, the last event would be the prestigious Tasmanian Mile. With a large field of 39 entrants, all eyes were on local middle distance superstar Stewart McSweyn.

Home from his Olympic and European campaigns, could he finally crack the four minute mark, a time never before witnessed in the event? Starting off scratch, he would need to give six runners a full lap head start.

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From the gun, a strong middle group of Hayden Bishop (255m), Ben Brockman (265m), Josh Febey (240m), James Francombe (245m) and defending champion Troy Atkins (240m) looked set to work together. By mid race, Samantha Koch (400m) was out in front of the lead pack and looked the one to catch.

Darcy Miller (365m) took over the lead with a lap to go, and the pace was on. McSweyn worked onto the back of what was now a long line of runners.

A large pack forming, they rounded the last bend and headed into the uphill grind to the finish. Young NSW 800m expert Ben Muston (210m) emerged. Showing a burst of speed, he quickly put all hopes of the chasers to rest, easily taking the victory.

It was a gallant effort from local high school student James Francombe to take second, with Avalon Forbes (355m) just pipping Ebony Webb (375m) for third.

What was the time?

The crowd experienced the second anxious wait in as many races. Was McSweyn’s time under the magic mark? Fingers remained crossed as a few minutes passed. The groan of disappointment filled the grandstand as Penney announced a time of 4:00.41.

It was all over. The star studded, action packed Burnie New Year’s Eve Carnival had been run and won. The only thing left to do for the kids was to jump the fence and enjoy the fireworks display.

Stewart McSweyn
Olympic representative Stewart McSweyn chasing down the pack.
(Picture: Tas Carnivals)

What next?

After a big week of racing, athletes now get a well-earned few weeks to rest. Time to recuperate and recharge before the final carnival of the series in St Helens on January 22. The main attraction is sure to be the after party, featuring the highly anticipated ‘naked gift’!

All carnival results available at https://www.tascarnivals.com.au/.

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