‘Speedy De Salis’ hasn’t got a second to lose

Clare De Salis… “It wasn’t my time to win but I’ll keep trying to go one better, if it’s meant to be I’ll get that win one day.” Photo: Belinda Strahorn

CANBERRA sprinter Clare De Salis had a nervous wait to find out if she’d claimed the women’s crown at the 140th running of Australia’s richest and most decorated footrace, the Stawell Gift.

While De Salis dominated her semi-final, the Easter Monday final was a much closer affair and had to be decided by photo.

“I knew it would be close,” says De Salis.

“It was nerve wracking waiting for the results of the photo finish to be announced.”

It was Queensland teenager Carla Bull who prevailed, scraping home to win the 120-meter women’s sprint final in a blistering 13.77 seconds.

Competing off an 8.5-meter handicap, De Salis – an exercise physiology and rehabilitation student – clocked 13.79 seconds to finish second.

Mia Gross finished third with a time of 13.80 seconds.

Known among friends as “Speedy De Salis”, the 21-year-old has been a regular fixture at Stawell for the past three years, but this year was her first time in the final.

Run on grass, athletes are handicapped according to form and ability, and start off at varying marks accordingly.

Runners race for glory and $40,000 in prize money for both the men’s and women’s Gift winners.

“The final was amazing,” says De Salis who pocketed $6000 for placing second.

“I was so happy to experience a final Stawell Gift and I knew that, no matter what the outcome was, I could walk away with a huge smile on my face.

“It wasn’t my time to win but I’ll keep trying to go one better, if it’s meant to be I’ll get that win one day.”

Among a talent-laden field, De Salis needed to draw on every ounce of courage and determination to make her mark in the final.

The example set by her brother Anthony – who battled through and overcame a cancer diagnosis – helped De Salis stay focused.

“In 2019 Anthony was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and went through a year of intensive treatment. He is now in remission,” De Salis says.

“Every day that I went to the hospital with him and sat by his side it amazed me how someone going through something so horrible could be so positive and show such strength.

“Trying to balance full time uni, placement and work, while staying committed and to motivated train was overwhelming, but what kept me going was knowing what Anthony had been through.”

Reflecting on the race, De Salis – who trains six days a week and is coached under Suzan Fulop and Adrian Faccioni – spoke of how “up and down” her race preparation had been.

“A few weeks leading into Stawell my hamstring tendon was playing up and I struggled mentally to know I needed to ease off in sessions whilst knowing I had to compete in a few weeks’ time,” De Salis says.

“However, all the credit goes to my coaches who did everything possible to ensure I was in the best position both mentally and physically going into Stawell.

“I can confidently say I wouldn’t have made that final let alone come second if it wasn’t for all the support.”

Held in all but five years since 1878, the Stawell Gift was for well over a century a male-only competition.

The Gift’s race distance of 130 yards (119 meters) is believed to have originated from the distance between two local pubs in the English town of Sheffield.

“The event has such a rich history and to be a part of that was incredible,” De Salis says.

“The atmosphere at Stawell [is one that] you wont get at any other event.”

Currently a member of the Nnorth Canberra-Gungahlin Athletics Club, the Canberra-born athlete says her interest in running began at a young age.

“I started Little Athletics when I was eight-years-old and it went from there,” says De Salis.

“During high school I was doing well at athletic competitions and was progressing through the rounds, and once I started making the national championships I decided to take it more seriously.”

Normally a 100-meter and 200-meter runner, some of De Salis’s sprinting achievements include competing at the Australian Championships, winning the 2019 Castlemaine Gift, and the Terang Gift in 2021.

Looking forward, De Salis has an ambitious goal: “I want to see how far I can take it,” she says.

“The ultimate would be the 200-meter race at the Olympics.”

Who can be trusted?

In a world of spin and confusion, there’s never been a more important time to support independent journalism in Canberra.

If you trust our work online and want to enforce the power of independent voices, I invite you to make a small contribution.

Every dollar of support is invested back into our journalism to help keep citynews.com.au strong and free.

Become a supporter

Thank you,

Ian Meikle, editor

Leave a Comment