ATHLETICS: Zane Branco used to stare in awe at the backmarkers at the annual Noosa Gift but this year he's the one to watch when it comes to the 110m sprint.
The talented teenager has been given the ultimate compliment for the race on home soil.
He's been lumped with the biggest handicap (off 2.5m) for the $6000 event, after a stunning season which included equalling the Australian under-18 200m record (20.90sec).
"I've been going to the Gift since I was 12 and as a local I've been able to see the event grow each year," he said.
"I've always watched the guys at the back in red and white come through like steam trains at the end and I've always looked at them thinking 'I hope I'm that quick one day, to get thrown in at the back."
Now he has the opportunity and he's eager to make the most of it.
"It's always great just being in the field but I think being a backmarker will be a lot of fun," he said.
"I'm a little bit unsure about how things will go. I know I'm running all right at the moment but...my handicap will be pretty stiff.
"I think it will be a good comp and a chance for me to get out there and try and chase some people down."
The fact that it's in familiar territory makes it a particularly special occasion.
"It's always a pleasure racing on your own track," he said.
"I'm down there five days a week so it's fun when everyone's there and it's a competition."
Just finished high school, the 17-year-old has next year's under-20 world championships in sight.
He's already nailed the qualifying time for the 200m and in coming months will press for the 100m and long jump marks, which he has so far missed by 0.01sec and 5cm respectively.
Branco will also contest the Gold Coast 2016 Commonwealth Games selection trials but is more focused on trying to get to the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.
For now, the Noosa Gift is the priority.
His coach, Michael Hooper, believes the 2.5m mark should keep him in the contention.
But he's expected to face challenges from the likes of 2015 winner James Woodgate (4.5m), local beach sprinter Conor Loughnan (6m) and defending champion Samantha Stanley (14.5m).
Branco was third last year, when local Stanley, 16, became the youngest person and first female to win the Gift, as an 18m frontmarker.
She's the reigning national 200m champion for her age and is returning from the Australian Institute of Sport for this year's edition.
There are other races at the Noosa Gift carnival at Girraween Sports Complex on Saturday, for a variety of ages and distances.
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