ARARAT - Sarah Blizzard and Tiffany Boatman won the biggest races of their running careers at last weekend's prestigious Bendigo Gift meeting.
With the Victorian Athletic League reaching the business end of the 2013/14 season hundreds of athletes descended on Bendigo for a chance to share in the $22,600 prize money on offer and the two locals from the Marcus Cooper stable proved they are more than capable of mixing it with the best.
Coach Cooper said Boatman was outstanding in the 400-metre Black Opal handicap final, winning the group one event in 52.72 seconds.
"The way Tiffany ran her final was beautiful to watch," he said.
"She had four starting in front of her, she took it out and didn't lose any, she controlled herself and once she got to the point where I said you go, she went and went around them.
"She got to the girl who was the favourite, who had 'time up', and Tiff sat on her shoulder and as soon as she did that I thought well if it comes down to a dog fight I know who I am backing you don't back against the smiling assassin.
"I was standing at the end and just yelled 'you've got it, if you want it' and that was all I had to say and she just got on to the straight and was gone.
"The women's 400-metre is one of the biggest races on our scene the Black Pearl a lot of girls try and win that one."
The riches kept coming for the Cooper Stable with Blizzard showing she is in top running form, making the semi finals of the 70-metre open event before qualifying for the 120-metre Women's Gift in the fastest time on day one.
Saturday was also a fruitful day for Cooper, who had 'time up' after the heats of the feature event, the 120-metre Bendigo Gift.
"I ran a 12.42 which blew me away because I didn't think I was capable of those times anymore I thought I was past those days," Cooper said.
"Mind you I knew I was in really good condition, I'd had a massage during the week and felt really good at training on Thursday night, everyone had freshened up nicely."
Cooper and Blizzard returned to Bendigo on Sunday and looked to continue the stable's winning run.
"I ran a 12.47 in the semi which wasn't too bad because it was a slight headwind this time, whereas it was a tail wind the day before," Cooper said.
"I was still happy with the time, but another bloke came out and put down a quicker time, he ran 12.38 and I thought it is on for young and old now.
"Sarah's race was before mine, so we were both up at the start with our blocks ready to go. I said to her to set the standard for me and see how you go.
"I could see the first part of the race, but after that it was too hard to tell what was going on, but listening to the commentary the further it went the further away she got in front of them.
"Tiffany was jumping up and down on top of her celebrating, I could see them at the other end and I was jumping up and down high-fiving down at the start and then I thought 'I've got to try and focus here'."
Blizzard finished in first place in the Women's Gift in a time of 14.02 seconds.
Cooper and former Stawell Gift runner-up Mark Hignett were the two front markers of the Gift final and Cooper said his aim was to push ahead of his opponent in the early stages of the race.
"I did that and thought now relax and as I did he has come back at me, so I had to go again. With that it threw me a little and I lost my rhythm," he said.
"Once I lost my rhythm I didn't finish off the race as well as I would have liked and that cost me a lot. I don't think I was ever going to beat (eventual winner) Robert Spencer, he just went past me and was too good. He ran a 12.2 and that is a very fast time, we are talking Stawell times there."
With Spencer first past the post, a blanket finish followed from second onwards. Cooper placed a respectable sixth just 0.18 of a second off the victor.
"I have never made a Bendigo Gift final in the 26 years that I have been running," Cooper said.
"I was happy to make the final, because that was my goal. Now I have calmed down I am happy about it but at the time I was annoyed, I am 41 and I'm still very competitive."
Cooper said he got more enjoyment from the weekend by seeing Boatman and Blizzard succeed than he did his own achievements.
"I can still remember back when they were 14 starting out with me and they were getting smashed," he said.
"We had to try and keep them going and now, they're not young girls anymore they are young ladies and they're running machines it is just awesome."