STAWELL - Former 100 metre world record holder Asafa Powell will start from scratch in the 132nd running of Australia's richest and most famous footrace, the Australia Post Stawell Gift.
The Jamaican, with a personal best of 9.72 seconds, will become the fastest runner ever to race at Stawell and is searching to become the third runner in history to win the event from the scratch mark.
While Powell's handicap was expected, there was some surprise in the handicap handed to two-time winner Joshua Ross.
Ross, who won from seven metres in 2003 and scratch in 2005, will give Powell just a one metre start in 2013.
The 32-year-old has suffered from his impressive form this season having already claimed two Gift wins from scratch, including the prestigious Bay Sheffield in Adelaide.
His one metre lift from previous Victorian Athletic League events this year is well below average, with athletes generally receiving a two metre lift due to the presence of Powell.
Defending champion Matthew Wiltshire (5.5m) will find the going tough, back from the eight metre mark that gave him victory in 2012, despite the overall field lift this year.
2011 winner Mitchell Williams-Swain (4.5m) will join other former winners including 2008 winner Sam Jamieson (6.5m), 2009 winner Aaron Stubbs (5.25m) and 1999 winner Rodney Mathews (12m), who is one of the oldest runners in the field at 44 years of age.
Early Gift favourite, Williamstown's Khan Marr will start from 5.25m.
In a positive sign for the 2013 carnival, the hard work of the Stawell Athletic Club and the Victorian Athletic League on the entry process has seen the biggest entry numbers in the last decade.
The entry increase, especially in the sprint events, has seen a 13 per cent increase from last year and in a promising sign for the sport's future also includes a 33 per cent increase in entries for the McDonalds Little Athletics events.
With the release of handicaps, the Stawell Athletic Club reminded athletes that any dramatic and sudden improvements will be dealt with harshly by the Victorian Athletic League stewards.
"Asafa in the field has changed the whole race there is no doubt," Stawell Athletic Club president Scotney Hayter said.
"Obviously the major change is the handicap limit being lifted to 12 metres.
"This has ensured a slight increase in entries from last year, with 150 athletes entering the Gift, easing any concern that Powell's presence had caused athletes to consider avoiding the Gift.
"We rely on the Victorian Athletic League (VAL) stewards to ensure that all events are run fairly at Stawell and they do a very good job of ensuring the integrity of the race is upheld.
"This is particularly relevant given the new match fixing legislation introduced to Parliament earlier this month.
"Given the substantial amounts of prize money on offer and betting that occurs at Stawell the VAL has a crucial role in ensuring the runners and trainers are aware of their obligations.
"It is something that the Stawell Athletic Club takes very seriously and while we don't pay much attention to the usual scuttlebutt about how athlete X, Y or Z has set themselves for Stawell, the club will be asking the question if there is dramatic improvement by any runner and we expect the VAL to deal with it should it occur."
Victorian Athletic League president Matthew Boyes said after a big season with 29 carnivals around Victoria everyone was looking forward to the season finale at Stawell.
"From the VAL's perspective we are thrilled that one of the world's great sprinters is coming down to Australia to specifically compete in the Australia Post Stawell Gift."