VETERAN sprinter Shane Ezard has upstaged a quality field to take out the $10,000 Albury-Wodonga Gift in stunning fashion.
Ezard, who turns 40 in a fortnight, edged out defending champion Joel Bee by just .3 of a second in a nail-
biting finish at Albury Sportsground.
In a major shock, Josh Ross — the fastest man in Australia — failed to qualify for the final.
Ezard, who is based in Torquay, was overcome by emotion in the moments after his win.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Ezard, pictured with his daughter Jorga, 3, said.
“I’ve come up short in a couple of races this year but I knew if I stayed positive and kept chipping away it would come.
“It’s just a thrill to get there, finally.
“I won a 400-metre race in Stawell, which is pretty big, but this is my biggest Gift win.
“I turn 40 in two weeks so I’m just stoked to be able to still compete against these guys — 16 years of experience has paid off.”
Ezard, who started almost 10 metres in front of Bee, said he was confident of figuring in the finish.
He covered 107.75 metres in 12.164 seconds.
“I knew I was a big chance. I’ve been in every final this year,” he said.
And while he was shocked at Ross’ non-appearance in the final, Ezard said the London Olympian’s task of running off a negative handicap was always going to prove a difficult one.
“It’s pretty hard from where he was starting from,” Ezard said.
“He’s a class act, though.”
Ezard’s win wasn’t the only shock result on the day, with Altona-based youngster Laura Jane Hilditch claiming the women’s feature.
Hilditch edged out Olympians Melissa Breen and Lauren Boden.
“I’m very, very happy,” she said.
“I had a hamstring injury in November and I’m just getting back into it; I haven’t had a win in a while so this is right up there.”
Hilditch, who started off a 10-metre marker, admitted she thought the pair of Australian sprint stars would overrun her at the finish.
“I knew they’d come hard,” she said.
“It was great to have both Mel and Loz in the race; I really thought Mel would get me.
“I could hear her coming at the end but I just managed to hold on.”
Breen finished third behind Ellie McKenzie.
Matthew Harvey finished third in the men’s.