SINCE making her women’s 20km race walking debut in 2017, 23-year-old Melburnian Jemima Montag has achieved national championship wins, gold at the 2018 Commonwealth Games, and a 10th placing at the 2019 world championships.
Now she can add a magnificent sixth place result in her debut Olympics to that list, earned in stifling 31-degree heat last Friday afternoon in Sapporo, Japan, in a race where five of the 58-strong field failed to finish.
“6th at my first Olympics! Podium in Paris ? A girl can dream,” Montag proudly posted on Instagram that night, adding, “brimming with gratitude for everyone who’s played a role – big or small”.
The Maccabi Athletics Club life member – who got her start as an eight-year-old in Little Athletics, and was Australia’s flag-bearer at the 2017 Maccabiah Games – confidently positioned herself in the lead group from the outset.
She remained a co-leader until the 16km mark, when the eventual winner Antonella Palmisano from Italy – who turned 30 that day – was able to set a superior new pace that nobody else could match.
Montag did not back away though, averaging a speed of 4 minutes and 25 seconds per kilometre to cross the line in 1 hour, 30 minutes and 39 seconds, just 42 seconds behind bronze medalist and 2016 Olympic champion Liu Hong of China.
After the race, Montag said she was thrilled with her performance, given, “I was ranked 16th going in, it’s my first [Olympic] Games, I’m 23, and race walkers tend to have a long career”.
“We stayed as a pack until 15km [were completed], then people made their move … but I’ve got a few more years to come, and I’ve got a really experienced coach in Brent Vallance.
“I dream about being on the podium in three years’ time, and I trust that, together, I can get there.”
Montag then revealed she had an extra source of inspiration during her Olympics debut.
“[I’d like to give] a big thank you to my family … I lost my Nanna [Judith] recently. She was a Holocaust survivor, and I used her strength through the entire thing.”
She now plans to write a book about Judith.
While Montag was competing, her parents Ray and Amanda, and her sisters Piper and Andie, were with her in spirit every step of the way, as they watched the action on 7Plus from the comfort of their home.
Ray told The AJN, “It was a fun 1.5 hours, and because we knew Jemima’s race plan, we could all stay at least mostly calm!
“We’re so proud of Jemima because, in a sport where you don’t really peak until your late 20s, she was able to compete so well in really elite company.
“She told me she’d certainly done better than she’d hoped, because her aim was to come anywhere between 8th and 12th.
“The five who finished in front of her – they are the ones she wants to emulate in the next few years.”
In its latest e-newsletter, Maccabi Athletics Club wrote of Montag: “She did herself, her family, Australia and the Maccabi community proud. What an inspiring performance, despite the heat and pressure, in the biggest race of her life – absolutely amazing”.