It was a dream come true when Jemima Montag qualified for Tokyo 2020.
The 2018 Commonwealth Games 20km Race Walking gold medallist confirmed her spot by winning the 2020 Oceania and Australian 20km Race Walking Championships in February, two days before her 22nd birthday.
“I was so excited,” Montag said.
“It will be my first Olympics. I have dreamt of this moment since I started little athletics. I have competed in the Commonwealth Games and world championships, but this feels very different and it is something I have been thinking about since I was a seven-year-old.”
All was going well for Montag in her preparations for the Games when the coronavirus struck, halted the world and delayed Tokyo 2020 by a year.
“There was definitely tears when the news came out that the Olympics were called off. The main feeling was being disorientated and lost,” the 22-year-old said.
“When the announcement happened, it was quite easy for me to think about myself and that it was the end of the world if the Olympics weren’t on.”
“Across the weeks, I have become compassionate and open minded to what’s going on for everyone else. The Olympics is everything for me, but everyone has been impacted by this situation.”
The Olympics had dominated Montag’s mind since qualification and during the New Year’s Eve countdown all the Victorian could think about was what 2020 had in store for her.
“We had this year planned out. The training camp and races leading up to the Olympics were mapped out. It gives a sense of control and clarity so when that’s all lost, it’s a sense of what’s the point, what am I training for? Then it was followed by am I allowed to even go out and train?”
“I don’t want to speak on the behalf of everyone, but definitely as athletes, we are very goal orientated people and it feels a bit weird not knowing what you are working towards,” the Commonwealth gold medallist said.
The comforting news for Montag is that her qualification for the delayed Olympics is secured thanks to her automatic selection earlier this year, therefore she won’t have to requalify.
Montag had an immediate affinity to endurance race walking and running when starting little athletics. After trying many sports and extracurricular activities, Montag was always drawn back to race walking or as the Victorian said, “my slow twitch muscle fibres took me in one direction.”
“I focussed on my study at school and on being a normal kid, so I definitely wasn’t serious about it even though I could tell that race walking was something I was talented at. I didn’t focus and specialise on race walking until I had finished year 12,” Montag said.
There was a sliding doors moment for Montag when on a family trip in Japan straight after she had finished year 12.
“I had oodles of self-doubt and really didn’t think I was capable of pursuing race walking at a higher level, despite having represented Australia at the 2004 World Race Walking World Cup in China,” the 20km Race Walker said.
“My younger sister didn’t know that I had fallen out of love with my sport but while we were in Japan, she said it would be great if I could qualify for the Tokyo Olympic games so we could come back. I thought she was crazy and that I was not capable of that. My mum piped up in that moment and said she thought I had what it took.”
“Even though I didn’t really believe my mum at the time, just having someone there supporting me was enough to have that self-doubt fade.”
It was in that moment when Montag decided she would do what it takes to push to the elite level and transitioning to new coach Brent Vallance was a welcome change.
“Brent was coaching people at the elite level, and I found that an inspiring environment to be a part of. He was also able to show me that I could represent Australia at the Olympics. Brent has trained Olympic gold medallists before and he could sense from my times in training or race performances, that certain things were possible,” Montag said.
In this unique time, Montag has relied on her coach and training team to help manage her loads over the next 15 months.
“The consensus from our training group was that we couldn’t continue our training intensity where we are looking to peak for the games. My preference is to go to a general preparation base state where there’s enjoyment and you change it up a bit but go through a good number of kilometres. That will have me prepared for any races later in the year,” the Victorian said.
“I can work on little things like nutrition, psychology, technique and form that I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to do before. I can also enjoy other types of training, not just race walking. I can incorporate bike rides, runs, yoga, more gym and other things to be in race form for the time being.”
“I have flipped it to view it as a bonus amount of time.”
Despite the delay, Montag has her sights firmly on July 2021 and representing Australia at her first Olympics.
“I am still excited for the games whenever they will happen,” Montag said
“We (athletes) don’t need sympathy. The games are going to happen eventually, it is just a shifting of timeline. There’s much more serious stuff going on now from a public health point of view and that’s what everyone should be focussing on.”
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