Jemima Montag wins in Adelaide (© Casey Sims / Oceania Athletics)
World silver medallist Jemima Montag, Evan Dunfee and Kyle Swan shared the accolades at the Australian and Oceania 20km Race Walking Championships in Adelaide on Sunday (11).
Australians Montag and Swan won the national and area titles, while Canada’s Dunfee – not eligible for either title – was the first to cross the line in the men’s race on a warm and sunny morning in the South Australian state capital. The race was also a World Athletics Race Walking Tour Silver competition.
The early morning start meant athletes were able to dodge the expected heat of an Adelaide summer day. Most of the course has some shade protection from the morning sun.
If the impact of the sun was mitigated, the heat of competition was more intense. Montag faced two strong rivals in the form of Olympic silver medallist Sandra Arenas and four-time world champion Liu Hong. The Colombian Arenas made the first significant injection of pace, some 13.5km into the women’s race, prompting Montag to switch her focus from the tempo to the competition.
Ultimately, the change in her thought process took Montag to a win – her sixth successive national title – and an Oceania record of 1:27:09, taking nine seconds off the mark she set at last year’s World Championships in Budapest.
“I was not expecting the move,” Montag told Athletics Australia. “It was quite abrupt. My brain definitely told me to give up and let her go, but in track and field you need to be flexible with your plan – I didn’t want to let her get too far ahead and regret it later.
“I was really trying to think one lap at a time; I couldn’t even really see the clock which is a really good thing,” added Montag. “Two years ago, when I broke the national record for the first time, all I thought about was the time which made me really tense and uptight.”
Not this time. Montag held her form all the way to the line, ultimately finishing 16 seconds ahead of Arenas. China’s Liu, the 2016 Olympic champion, was third in 1:27:44.
The three women have been training together in Australia. Montag’s coach, Brett Vallance, said she was “tickled pink” to have this level of training and racing available. They had already raced prior to Adelaide, Montag defeating Arenas over 10,000m on the track in a World Race Walking Tour bronze competition in Canberra on 26 January, with Liu finishing fourth.
Rebecca Henderson (1:30:40) and Olivia Sandery (1:30:52) took the silver and bronze Oceania and national medals, finishing fourth and fifth respectively.
Dunfee likewise won the men’s 10,000m in Canberra and now made it two from two on what has become almost an annual Summer Down Under tour. He was an unchallenged winner by 29 seconds in 1:19:23 – the second-fastest time of his career – demonstrating the Canadian is likely to remain a force in world race walking for a little longer yet.
He has been a constant force to runner-up Swan, at least, who told Athletics Australia: “I can remember training with him when I was 16 and being inspired, so to go out and race with him like that was really fulfilling.”
Swan’s 1:19:52 was second only to his personal best 1:19:24 in Nomi, Japan, last year, and the significance of that time was not lost on Vallance, who coaches him as well as Montag.
“Sub-80 in February in Adelaide,” said Vallance. “The only other sub-80s at the height of an Australian summer have been Nathan Deakes, Jared Tallent and Dane Bird-Smith – all Olympic or World Championship medallists – and a couple of good internationals in Dunfee and Perseus Karlstrom.”
Rhydian Cowley took the silver medal in the Oceania and Australian Championships, finishing third in 1:21:01 with the Jared Tallent-coached Tim Fraser next in 1:22:03.
Australia’s best male race walker currently, Declan Tingay, missed the championships as he completes his rehabilitation from a hamstring strain. He remains on track to resume competition at the World Race Walking Tour Gold meeting next month in Taicang, China, and April’s World Athletics Race Walking Team Championships in Antalya, Turkiye.
Len Johnson for World Athletics
1 Jemima Montag (AUS) 1:27:09
2 Sandra Arenas (COL) 1:27:25
3 Liu Hong (CHN) 1:27:44
4 Rebecca Henderson (AUS) 1:30:40
5 Olivia Sandery (AUS) 1:30:52
6 Hannah Mison (AUS) 1:35:27
1 Evan Dunfee (CAN) 1:19:23
2 Kyle Swan (AUS) 1:19:52
3 Rhydian Cowley (AUS) 1:21:01
4 Timothy Fraser (AUS) 1:22:03
5 Marius Ziukas (LTU) 1:22:15
6 Will Thompson (AUS) 1:23:03