Walker Jemima Montag embodying ‘Australian values’ as a role model to inspire the next generation of athletes

Australian race walker and reigning Commonwealth Games champion Jemima Montag says she accepts the pressure to defend her crown with days to go before competing at the Birmingham Games.

The Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games gold medalist is poised to become the walker to beat at the event, aiming to become the first woman since Jane Saville in 2006 to successfully defend a gold medal in the walk .

The distance of the event has been shortened from a 20km road race and will now be contested as a 10km track race inside the Alexander Stadium.

“I wish it was half the distance,” Montag said.

Jemima Montag is aiming to defend her 2018 Commonwealth Games gold medal in this year’s 10km walk final in Birmingham.(Getty Images: Michael Dodge)

“I really feed off of the energy and the excitement of the crowd. I remember the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast and there were so many Aussies… just giving us their energy for that whole hour and half.”

In February, Montag broke Saville’s 18-year-old Australian and Oceania record for 20km by 13 seconds. It’s a moment she reflects on, following her ‘turning point’ when she shot green and gold four years ago in Gold Coast.

“Representing Australia is about embodying the Australian values ​​of camaraderie and fairness and giving it your all. I think that’s what the Australian public really wants to see us do,” she said. .

“Crossing the line and hitting the boards at the 2018 Commonwealth Games was the first moment I believed in myself as capable of competing on the world stage and representing my country well.

“I tried to take advantage of the last two laps and interact with the crowd and grab the flag, cross that line, press the tape and then get the medal through Nathan Deakes around my neck .

“It felt like a real rite of passage and a sense of belonging after years of struggling with self-confidence.

“I feel the pressure and the expectation to bring home some medals (to Birmingham) but I remind myself that all Australians and my family just want to see us come out and be leaders, set a good example for the younger generation. and embody those values.”

Australian walker Jemima Montag stops her watch and smiles after crossing the finish line.
In February, Montag broke Jane Saville’s 18-year-old record for the Australian 20km walk event.(Athletics Australia / Steve Christo)

Change of mentality for the national record

Montag said the Australia and Oceania record – a time of 1:27:27 – was born out of a change in motivation in mental techniques. The change lifted the weight off his shoulders, continuing to reset goals for the rest of the year.

“We got to the finish line about 30 seconds faster than the national record,” Montag said.

“I’ve thought a lot since about the power of values-based motivation versus fear-based motivation.

“It was a very special day, I think it was more important than winning the Commonwealth Games or getting to the Olympics or whatever.

“To be the fastest woman in the country to cover that distance is pretty cool.”

It wasn’t until minutes after the race that an exhausted Montag got a call from her idol, Saville, who celebrated with her.

“It was amazing. I was in the tent half dead on the physio table, and she was there on the phone, so supportive,” she said.

“I think that’s a real sign of a great sportswoman when they just want to see their sport progress…and she had the record for a few decades or whatever and she was so happy.”

The Importance of Models

Despite the accolades on the track, winning doesn’t seem to be everything for Montag. Near misses are cause for celebration, after finishing fourth at the World Championships in Athletics by just 19 seconds in July.

“Humans just decided 1-2-3 gets medals and fourth is one spot away. I think fourth is awesome, don’t suck,” Montag said after the competition in Eugene, Utah. Oregon.

Succeeding off the track and showing that there is a human being behind every athlete is just as important as Montag inspires the next generation of athletes.

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Aussie walker Jemima Montag talks about the impact her Nana has had on her

A medical student who loves cooking and spending time with family, the 24-year-old also talks about superstitions; such as the lucky number three, her lucky pajamas, and a lucky gold bracelet she wears from her late grandmother.

“I lost my grandmother about a year ago, just before the Olympics, and it wasn’t until the months since that we’ve really been able to unpack her story as a Holocaust survivor. “, said Montag.

“It’s something she didn’t want to talk about much, understandably, and there was a lot of pain and trauma there.”

A gold necklace became a keepsake for Montag and his two sisters, who split it into three bracelets to carry on his grandmother’s legacy.

“I wear my grandmother’s bracelet as a lucky charm now. And it reminds me of that strength and resilience,” she said.

“It’s just a really tangible reminder of what she sacrificed for me and dad to even be alive. Sometimes, you know, sport is tough and it comes with its challenges.

“(But) it’s a reminder that I choose to be there day in and day out at these competitions to do what I do. And it’s tough, but it should be fun.”

Australian walker Jemima Montag competes on the running track at night.
Jemima Montag has become the first Australian track and field athlete to be nominated at the Commonwealth Games for the UK campaign.(Athletics Australia / Steve Christo)

Walking is “much bigger” than just a sport

Montag uses walking as a “vehicle” to create positive messages as a model.

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“Running is so much more important to me than physical sport. It’s a place I belong and it’s a vehicle through which I can explore my values ​​of pursuing mastery, challenging myself myself, inspiration for the next generation of boys and girls, and just exploring my mental and physical limits,” Montag said.

The Australian champion was chosen from just 25 athletes across the world – the only representative from Oceania – as part of the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) Young Leaders Program from 2021-2024.

“We choose a pressing local issue that we are passionate about and that relates to the Sustainable Development Goals, and we build a sport-based solution,” Montag said.

“I chose to focus on the decline of young women and girls in sport and physical activity, which I am passionate about because I have seen all that sport and physical activity has given me .

“I’ve also seen friends I’ve made through sports gradually face obstacles and give up and how hard it was for them and how I was almost kicked out of sports.

“I was able to get to the bottom of it: what are the unique barriers for women and girls in sport, what gets them out twice as much as boys?

“Then the tricky part was what to do about it? Because if we had all the answers, then I’m sure they would already be being passed.”

Through Montag’s “Play On” program, a vision of creating supportive environments through education and training for young women is changing perceptions.

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Walker Jemima Montag talks about adolescence and puberty as a female athlete

“I have often seen girls and women being blamed for being lazy or just not engaged enough for choosing to quit sports,” she said.

“And we don’t really consider whether the environments are made for them, welcome them or are adapted to their needs.

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“I’ve built a team of 14 expert women who are very diverse – some Paralympians and Olympians, some are community leaders, some are doctors, some in the political space.”

With four topics to address positivity – the health of female athletes, mental health, nutrition and inclusivity – Montag aims for a stronger bond between schools and parents, who often rely on each other to solve problems. accountability gap related to keeping women in sport.

“We challenge the idea that there has to be a cookie-cutter image of what a female athlete looks like who is tall, blond, thin, able-bodied, neurotypical of a certain race,” Montag said.

“I hope that by listening to experts in these four fields, 15-year-old girls will have what I wish they had at their age, and that they are armed with the tools to meet any challenges that may come their way. and help themselves.

“Having the opportunity to be a role model for the young girls and women coming up has added a whole new layer of meaning and fun to my sport.

“It’s no longer a solitary individual pursuit, it’s something that I can really tap into and use to make a difference in the lives of others, which is amazing.”

This chase this weekend at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham is something Montag hopes to use as inspiration for future walkers following his run.

“It’s something that’s a very important biomarker of health that we should celebrate and just learn to navigate on the trail and in life,” she said.

“I’m very careful about the legacy I leave for the next generation and the words I choose and what I say to them.

“No matter what each of us does, it’s really about the ‘why’ behind it.

“And so that ‘why’ is to belong to a community and to be a good leader and to inspire young women and girls to take up any physical activity that makes them feel good to take care of their physical and mental health. “

Montag will compete in the women’s 10,000m walk final on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. AEST.

Rebecca R. Santistevan