Greased lightning: Mechanic motors to Gift win
A VICTORIAN motor mechanic who switched from soccer to running last year has dominated the race he knew little about until recently.
Dhruv Rodrigues Chico, who was born in Goa, India, had to look up the history of the Stawell Gift when his coach told him in November that he was setting him to win Australia's richest footrace.
And from the moment he dominated Saturday's heats, the 20-year-old has been the overwhelming favourite and he started $1.20 in the final off the luxury mark of seven metres.
After holding his nerve when Leonard King (6.75m) surged at him midway through the race, Rodrigues Chico exploded over the final stages to win easily in 12.11sec.
King held on for second with Jason Bailey, who had been one of the favourites off 10m in the lead-up, taking third.
"I wanted to make a statement that I'm here so my time I was very happy with (in the heat)," Rodrigues Chico said.
"But anything can happen in the race, you can tense up, you can get put off with someone next to you.
"I definitely kept my cool, I didn't let that affect me, I didn't let anyone say, 'You're the favourite'. I just stuck to my own game, stuck to my own rhythm."
Soccer had been his passion and he'd played with a number of Victorian second-tier teams in the National Premier League including South Melbourne and Dandenong before turning to running after showing promise on the track at school.
"It was actually during school when I ran AGS for Mentone Grammar," Rodrigues Chico said.
"After that run one of the guys said, 'You've run a good time, you should give it a shot'. So I ran All Schools and that's when I was introduced to Tom Morehouse, my coach.
"From there he's done everything right for me. He understands me, probably more than I understand myself sometimes. He's a great mentor and I look up to him every single moment."
After Rodrigues Chico was a surprise winner of the Hastings Gift in November off 6m, Morehouse told him everything was now focussed on Easter and the Stawell Gift's $40,000 winner's cheque.
"I've done everything right leading up to it. I've sacrificed a lot and with the outcome I couldn't be happier," Rodrigues Chico said.
"This season all my mates turned 21. I just drove to every event so I wouldn't drink. No late nights for me, just tried to keep my sleeping pattern and my rhythm and routine all the same leading up to this race.
"I didn't want to change anything at the last minute."
The Rodrigues Chico journey to Stawell started after he left Goa with his parents at the age of two to New Zealand where he stayed until he was 10 before then moving to Melbourne.
Now he has dreams of representing Australia as a runner.
"Hopefully this can take me somewhere. I don't know if it does but hopefully it does," he said.
"I would love to represent Australia someday but I've got a lot to work on. I'm only a year in so I'm pretty new to it."