HOPES of the New Year Sprint being claimed by an Edinburgh athlete in its 145th running were dashed by 18-year-old Dylan Ali.
The sprinter from Hawick, tipped by the Evening News on Monday, became the latest teenager to triumph, taking the £4000 first prize for winning the famous 110 metres professional handicap by fully two metres in the outstanding time of 11.59 seconds from his handicapped start of 7.5 metres on the heavy grass track.
There was not one Edinburgh athlete in the final and last year’s winner Ben Robbins (EAC) had his hopes of a repeat dashed in the cross-ties, while back-marker Morro Bajo (EAC) crashed out with a hamstring injury in his heat and Sam Revie (EAC) was an unexplained no-show.
The two Dunfermline contenders, Gemma Nicol and Kevin Eddie, were also out of luck, though Eddie, the 90 metres sprint winner on Hogmanay, had the consolation of a £900 second prize.
Nicol, bidding to become the first ever female winner and reach her seventh final, lost out in her cross-tie by a mere 0.02 seconds when it looked to the naked eye as if she had done enough to secure a fastest loser qualifying place.
Ali, however, after winning his cross-tie impressively in 11.80 seconds, the first sub 12 seconds time electronically recorded in this year’s event, powered away from his seven rivals in the final to win easily.
“A brilliant run,” said his Hawick training partner Leigh Marshall, who himself had won the event four years ago and might have been a contender again this time had injury not intervened.
Second in 11.81 off nine metres was 31-year-old Eddie, who had already won a £300 prize on the first day for taking the Pat Chester Open 90 metres handicap, and third was Seb Harrison (Jedburgh 6.5m), who picked up £450 and is a previous runner-up.
Mercifully, the predicted heavy rain affecting many other racecourses held off and conditions for the final may actually have been better than for the earlier races.
Written off after the heats on the first day, from which he progressed only as the slowest of the ten fastest losers in 12.26 seconds, Ali was joint favourite at 4/5 before the final along with Hawick rival Jack Wilson, the fastest of the heat winners on Hogmanay.
“The heat was just a bad run,” said Ali, who works as a waiter and barman in the New Delhi Indian restaurant in Hawick.
“He was tight then, probably due to nerves, but he’s done his running this time,” said Marshall, who hopes to be fit enough to join Ali in competing indoors at the Emirates Arena in Glasgow later this month.
Coach David Rae and assistant Che Campbell prepared their man mostly at Hawick Cricket Ground as well as with weekly visits to the Tweedbank track and Ali was quick to praise all the support he has had, including physio Steve Riddell: “I’ve had great back-up,” he said.
Ali competed in the event last year, going out in Marshall’s heat and has also caught the eye in some Highland Games meetings. But he will certainly be a marked man now as the 2013 winner Robbins found to his cost. Robbins, penalised 3.5 metres for that success and off four metres this time, could not quite reproduce the 12.05 seconds form he found for his heat, appearing to limp home third in 12.22 in the fourth cross-tie won by Charlie Carstairs (Lasswade 7.75m) in 12.08, from Gemma Nicol (Dunfermline), who was second in 12.17.
Surprisingly to many, that was not good enough to see the 27-year-old Scottish Women’s 400 metres champion into her seventh final, though the Commonwealth Games hope had improved by 0.05 seconds from her heat. “I used my starting blocks this time,” said Nicol, who was disappointed to have failed after getting so close. And her grandfather John Sharp said: “She’s got more important things to aim for, but the money would have been nice.”
• CONSOLATION events on Hogmanay did provide some Capital solace with Mike Olsen (EAC), who like Bajo is coached by Bill Walker, winning the 110m invitation handicap race and a £200 prize in what was possibly the finest run of the meeting.
Not 15 till March, Olsen, off 5m, gave Dylan Ali a start of 2.5m and beat him by 0.04 seconds in a time of 12.15 secs, with Craig Sowerby (8.75m) third. Dominic O’Hare (EAC) was another winner in the Four Furlongs 880 yards straight handicap race. O’Hare, a 16-year-old Peebles High fifth year pupil, pulled away strongly in the final stages, watched by elder brother Chris, the 2013 World Championship 1500m finalist already chosen by Scotland for Glasgow 2014.