“IT’S certainly relieving, and nice to have something locked in amid all the uncertainty,” 22-year-old race walker Jemima Montag told The AJN on Monday, just days after receiving official confirmation that she has earned a spot in the Australian Olympic team for what will be her debut Olympic Games in Tokyo next year.
The 2018 Commonwealth Games gold medallist had more than one foot in the Olympic qualifying door in February after winning the 2020 women’s 20km race walking national championship – one of the few national titles able to be held this year.
But the onset of the COVID-19 global outbreak and the postponement of the 2020 Olympics by 12 months saw the team selection process for track and field athletes put on hold.
On August 19, Athletics Australia announced the first five athletics stars to earn automatic qualification into the Australian team for Tokyo 2021, due to being national titleholders in their disciplines.
Montag – a Melbourne University Athletics Club member and former Maccabi Athletics junior – was one of them; the others were men’s race walker Dane Bird-Smith, javelin athlete Kelsey-Lee Barber, and runners Jessica Hull and Stewart McSweyn.
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They were all given symbolic, oversized Qantas ‘tickets’ to Tokyo by the Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) to mark the moment. Montag, deciding to embrace the Japanese theme, headed straight to a cherry blossom tree in her local park in Melbourne for a photo during her permitted hour of daily outdoor exercise under the stage 4 lockdown. Naturally she walked there.
Fittingly, her inspiration to start her Olympic journey began during a family holiday in Tokyo in 2016, well before she won state and national titles, a Commonwealth Games gold medal, and 10th place at last year’s world championships in Doha.
In an interview with the AOC, Montag revealed it was her younger sister, Piper, who told her it would be wonderful if she could make it to the next Olympics, so they would have an excuse to return to Tokyo.
Montag had shrugged that idea off, but a comment from her mum, Amanda, stuck in her mind: “I think you’ve got what it takes … if you want to give it a go, we will be right there supporting you.”
Congratulating Montag and her four track and field colleagues, chef de mission Ian Chesterman said, “Each of them has shown what outstanding athletes they are.
“This is a challenging time for athletes and sports across the world, but this is a day to celebrate for the athletes, their families, coaches, supporters, friends and the athletics community who have helped them reach this milestone.”
Montag – a 2022 Australian Maccabiah team ambassador – joins fellow Jewish athlete, canoe slalom world champion Jessica Fox, in the team. Fox earned her place a few months ago.
The qualification process will continue for remaining Australian athletes across all Olympic sports over the next nine months.