Montag’s moment: Teen qualifies for Commonwealth Games

Pure elation. Jemima Montag realising she has just qualified for the Commonwealth Games in race walking. Photo: Mark Brake/ Getty Images AsiaPac

RACEWALKER Jemima Montag will make her Commonwealth Games debut as part of Australia’s athletics team for the Gold Coast games in April, after she claimed silver at the 2018 Australian 20km Racewalking and Oceania Championships in Adelaide earlier this week.

The Memorial Avenue course was only Montag’s second ever competitive 20km race. Just days out from her 20th birthday, she crossed the finish line in a personal best time of 1:31:26, which would have been a gold medal time in the past three Commonwealth Games.

Montag and her close rivals Beki Smith and Claire Tallent broke away from the pack at the halfway mark of the race.

The first two to cross the finish line earned automatic qualification, while third was likely to but not definite.

With this in mind and some good speed sessions under her belt, Montag made her move in the last 200 metres and snatched second spot in a thrilling finish.

Overcome with emotion as she completed the gruelling course, the realisation of what she had achieved took over.

Booking a spot at the Commonwealth Games was beyond her wildest dreams.

“I always wondered if it would be possible, I hoped it would be growing up in little athletics,” Montag told The AJN.

“It’s the best reward ever for all the hard work I’ve put in and plan to in the future.

“There’s no greater privilege as an athlete than to put on the green and gold, it is what we strive for.”

Her path to qualification began at the Open Women’s 20km Race Walk Invitational at Melbourne’s Fawkner Park in December where she finished third in a time of 1:34:18 behind New Zealand’s national record holder Alana Barber and compatriot Tallent, which was within the Commonwealth Games qualifying standard (1:36:00).

Following the impressive start to her senior career, Montag spent time at the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS), training with a strong contingent of international and Australian walkers.

“I didn’t think competing in the upcoming Commonwealth Games was possible until five weeks ago,” Montag said.

“I had doubts about my age and level of experience, but there at the AIS I proved to myself that I was able to keep up with the best.”

She attended a high altitude training camp in early December last year in Bogota, Columbia which also contributed to her rapid rise.

“It was my first time on a high altitude camp and my coach has always been a big advocate for it.

“I was feeling the effects early on, such as difficulty breathing and nausea but as the days went on those symptoms decreased and I was able to get though the work.”

2017 was full of success and positive experiences for Montag who was chosen as the Australian team’s flag bearer at the 2017 Maccabiah Games, before winning a silver medal in the 10km event.

Montag graduated from Wesley College with flying colours in 2016 and then began a bachelor of science at The University of Melbourne.

With no major international races in 2017, Montag used it as a year to transition gradually to a more elite level of training with her new coach Brent Vallance.

“He’s coached multiple Olympians and he knows what it takes – he knows the formula to transition a junior to senior ranks.”

Montag’s meteoric rise in the race walking arena has her dreaming of the ultimate.

“A medal would be awesome in Gold Coast,” she said.

“I definitely have my eyes locked on Tokyo for 2020 and then I’ll see what happens after that.

“An Olympic gold is the big dream for any athlete, so that would be amazing.”

AARON FETTER