Stawell success in the genes for young Scotts Creek runner

RUNNING miles one week, laying tackles the next.

Nicholas O’Connor will trade track shoes for football boots when he returns to his traditional autumn sporting pursuit this weekend.

The Scotts Creek teenager, 14, is riding a high after tasting victory at the famous Stawell Gift carnival at Central Park on Monday.

He defied 34 other runners to claim the Little Athletics 1600-metre handicap in four minutes, 26.24 seconds off a handicap of 235 metres.

The win, from Williamstown’s Damian Martin (4.31.99) and Doncaster’s Connor Ogilvie (4.36.09), continued a rich family tradition at the carnival.

His father Anthony O’Connor has also won at Stawell, triumphing in the frontmarkers’ mile in 2000 when Nicholas was less than two weeks old.

But the connection doesn’t end there. Anthony’s sister Jayne McMeel won the women’s 400 metres, also in 2000.

And Laurie Heffernan, a second cousin to Anthony, claimed a double on the same weekend in 1973 — the victory mile and frontmarkers’ two mile.

Nicholas, who will run out with the Cobden under 14s against Camperdown on Sunday, said he was excited to score his own feature win.

He said he did not have a race strategy but managed to keep pace with Damian, who dictated the pace after starting off 220 metres.

“I was quite lucky. I had a guy who ran in front of me and dragged me into the race. I was following him the whole way,” he said.

“He got to first on the last lap. With 300 to go I got in front of him and held on.”

Nicholas said what he had achieved didn’t sink in until some time after his race — “when it hits you and you realise you’ve won, it’s pretty good”.

He said he preferred athletics over football but enjoyed both sports when the season dictated.

“I reckon I’m a better runner than I am at football but football is a good sport,” he said.

His mother Jillian O’Connor said she had seen improvements in Nicholas’ running since the start of summer.

Her son trains with Terang Athletics Club on Wednesday nights and competes at Camperdown Little Athletics Centre on Friday nights.

“Running has always been his thing. He’s really enjoyed that,” she said.

“He got to state level in cross-country for a couple of years and with his 1500 he’s got to regionals and just missed out (progressing).”

The next chapter in Nicholas’ athletics career is a trip to the US in September, organised by Sports Travel Australia.

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