Magnificent Montag

Jemima Montag won Australia's first medal at the World Athletics Championships in Budapest, walking her way to silver in the women's 20-kilometre walk – her greatest sporting achievement to date. 

The Victorian Institute of Sport (VIS) athlete made her presence known in the lead group over the first 15km. Though eventual winner Maria Perez from Spain made the decisive break before the 16km mark, Montag stayed true to her race plan and crossed the line in 1:27:16. 

“We are so thrilled for Jemima. This medal has been a long time in the making. The last 12 months has required meticulous and creative planning by Jemima’s coach Brent Vallance to ensure the required training and lead in competitions took into account the demands of juggling a full-time medical degree,” said Performance Advisor, Nicky Frey. 

In claiming silver, Montag shaved 11 seconds off her own national record and became the first Australian women’s race walker to finish on the podium at a World Championships since Kerry Saxby-Junna in 1999. 

“I’ve learned from the last few World Champs and the Olympics that when the move is made at about 15km, it’s the winning move,” Montag said post-race. 

“The last three majors I haven’t had the training evidence or the self-belief, or the technical backing to go with it but when speaking to my psych the last few days, the idea was just to be willing to hurt in that last five,” she added. 

She could feel the rest of the chase group suffering and doubted they could go with her if she put her foot down.  

“I knew they were hurting. We spent an hour together in that pack. I could see them picking up every sponge. I could hear them panting. And I knew that I was feeling comfier than them. And it felt like I had another gear.” 

“I didn’t really have any intention of challenging her (Perez). And I knew I was on one red card. It’s smarter to lock in silver, and keep that distance back to bronze than to worry about challenging for gold and potentially getting disqualified.” 

Montag’s maiden global medal signifies her sharp progression since making her World Championships debut in Doha 2019; 10th in Qatar, sixth at the Tokyo Olympics, to fourth at the 2022 World Athletics Championships, and now a silver medallist in 2023. 

For the past five years, Montag has been working closely with the experts at the VIS and she also thanked her team at the VIS after her medal winning performance.  

“I do everyday training at the Victorian Institute of Sport, so I would like to thank all of the legends there. It really feels like a family,” Montag said.   

It was an incredible performance by an incredible person, and all her support team at the VIS were absolutely thrilled, but not totally surprised. 

“Global athletics medals are very difficult to get even if you do everything perfectly, and to be honest that’s exactly what she did and I’m so happy for her to be rewarded for it,” said her Physical Preparation Coach, Cory Innes

According to Innes and her entire team, her preparations for this year’s World Championships were watertight. 

“Between her and her coach (Brent) they went away and looked at everything they needed to do to get a medal and methodically and deliberately made sure every detail was covered off – training details, race preparation, in-race strategies, nutrition, studies, lifestyle, passions outside of sport.” 

“The way she set herself up for success while combining everything in her life is a great example to any athlete at the VIS,” Innes said. 

Montag etched her name into VIS history, becoming the first race walker to win the prestigious Award of Excellence in 2022. She is extremely generous with her time for the VIS and our programs, and is a regular in the gym, engaging with fellow athletes from an array of sporting programs. 

Montag is an athlete speaker for the School Sport Victoria and VIS ‘Be Fit. Be Well’ program and is often seen in schools engaging and leading presentations on resilience, goal setting and an Olympians mindset. 

"Her warmth and positivity make her a natural role model, but once you start hearing her story you quickly understand how inspiring she is. Her passion for girls to play sport is a real strength and the VIS is lucky to join with Jemima to deliver her messages through the ‘Play On’ arm of Be Fit. Be Well,” said VIS Community Engagement and Events Coordinator, Amy McMahon.

Montag has an incredibly strong community spirit and long used walking as the “vehicle” for creating positive messages as a role model.  

“Race walking to me is much bigger than the physical sport. It’s somewhere I belong and it’s a vehicle through which I can explore my values of the pursuit of mastery, of challenging myself, or inspiring the next generation of boys and girls, and just exploring my mental and physical limits," Montag said.

She is very passionate about sharing her experiences and helping other young athletes, and particularly young women, to navigate the early parts of their careers.  

Montag is an IOC Young Leader, after being chosen from a pool of 3,000 applicants for the prestigious program. The program aims to empower young people to develop their own sustainable sports-based social business in response to a pressing local issue.  

As one of 25 of the program’s Young Leaders, Montag’s goal is to increase the participation of women and girls in physical activity by addressing the reasons why so many stop playing sport.  

As part of the four-year IOC Young Leaders (IYL) program, Montag has been awarded CHF 10,000 (Swiss Francs) in seeding funds to build a business that will tackle her issue of focus. Montag wants to use the funds to develop a program that involves state Government, schools and potential sponsors.  

Montag is combining her passions for health, physical activity and gender equality with her IYL project “Plan On”. Play On is an e-resource that equips 15-18 year old girls with the knowledge and skills they need to stay engaged in sport and recreation.  

The program is available for schools to book through the VIS’ Be Fit. Be Well program and Montag along with five other VIS female athlete speakers travel to schools across the state to share the program’s important messages. The four modules are designed to address the unique barriers to young women in sport, those being: female athlete health, mental heath, nutrition and inclusivity. By opening up opportunities to keep playing sport for all young women and girls, Play On will contribute to a generation of confident and empowered women.  

When speaking about her advocacy for women in sport, Montag said that “when I’m talking the talk I also have to walk the walk”

“Multiple times during the race, I was telling myself Play On!” 

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