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The Long Walk to Paris | Australia’s Olympic Quest at the World Athletics Race Walking Team Championships

Published Wed 27 Mar 2024

Australia’s elite race walkers will compete for all-important Olympic berths at the World Athletics Race Walking Team Championships in Antalya, Türkiye next month, with a green and gold continent ready to face a groundbreaking challenge in the inaugural global Marathon Walks Mixed Relay.

Critical in the lead-up to Paris 2024, Australia will field three teams of two in the marathon race walk mixed relay, with the goal to book the nation’s ticket to the Paris Games in the new addition to the Olympic program, set to revolutionise race walking.

The relay requires pairs to alternate male and female walkers over four defined legs, adding up to 42.195km, introducing a team element to the former individual pursuit. The top 22 teams in Antalya will qualify for Paris, with up to five of the 22 teams able to select a second team for their country.

While the event has not yet been raced at a global level, Australia is set to become one of the strongest countries, with World Championships silver medallist Jemima Montag (VIC) spearheading the country’s campaign to international dominance.

Joining Montag on the roads of Antalya will be fellow Olympians Declan Tingay (WA), Rhydian Cowley (VIC), Kyle Swan (VIC) and Rebecca Henderson (VIC), while World Championships representative Olivia Sandery (SA) gets ready for her fourth Australian team.

Already a medal hopeful in Paris in the Women’s 20km, Montag says the Australian team will be hellbent on qualifying a place at the historic Paris marathon, but will be treading carefully in Antalya to secure their berth.

“I’m intrigued to see what this event is like and to see what two legs of 10km with a 38-minute break is going to feel like, but it’s a really cool opportunity to bring that team element in. It makes you lift a bit when you’re out there not just for you, but for another person too,” Montag said.

“With the goal of qualifying two teams, we have been instructed to be careful at these Championships. (Coach) Brent (Vallance) compared it to someone like Brooke Buschkuehl in the long jump qualifying round. She isn’t going to jump seven-metres then, she’d save it for the final. Turkey is about getting through safe, with good technique, practising physiology and nutrition within this new format.”

With all of Australia’s mixed relay athletes achieving the qualifying standard in the individual 20km event already,  two-time Olympian Cowley said he is confident in the ability of each team to get the job done.

“The mixed team marathon relay is an interesting new challenge, where we will have to use not just our fitness, but also the skills and knowledge of each other and our support crews to solve the puzzle and get the best result we can,” Cowley said.

“We think we’ve got the quality in our teams to do it, so now we just need to execute it. With the 20km qualification locked in, it takes away the pressure in an individual sense and it will give myself and the others the sense of freedom just to focus on executing and replicating our good early season form.”

Australia’s push at the Championships does not merely rest on its hopes in the relay event. 14 athletes will contest the traditional team events, with Timothy Fraser (ACT) and Will Thompson (VIC) leading the men’s 20km team of five, as World Championships representative Allanah Pitcher (NSW) leans on her credentials to lead the Women’s 20km team.

Six athletes representing the next generation of race walking will stretch their legs over 10km, with junior 10,000m record holder Isaac Beacroft (NSW) and national champion Alexandra Griffin (WA) wearing green and gold for the first time ahead of the World Athletics Under 20 Championships in Peru this August.

The Australian team selection heralds a continuation of Australia’s history in race walking, a discipline in which the country has long excelled and taken pride.

“Australia has long had a tradition of success in race walking, and we have a chance yet again to make an impact when it counts,” Athletics Australia General Manager, High Performance Andrew Faichney said.

“We’re extremely excited for our athletes to test the waters in the mixed marathon walks relay, as it not only offers another opportunity to showcase their race walking prowess, but with Olympic quota qualification on the line, it offers up a chance to make history in an entirely new event at the Olympic Games.

“We’re also very keen to see the next generation in action in Türkiye, with six juniors in action, with the added benefit of seeing how their senior counterparts prepare themselves for the intensity of competition. I’d like to congratulate the entire team on their selection, and wish them all the best in their final preparations before next month.” 

The World Athletics Race Walking Team Championships take place on April 21, with the meet streamed live and free on World Athletics’ Inside Track platform.

Australian Team for the 2024 World Athletics Race Walking Team Championships
April 21, 2024

Men (11)

Marathon Race Walk Mixed Relay:  Rhydian Cowley (VIC, Brent Vallance), Declan Tingay (VIC, Brent Vallance), Kyle Swan (VIC, Jared Tallent)

20km Race Walk: Tim Fraser (ACT, Jared Tallent), Will Thompson (VIC, Brent Vallance),  Carl Gibbons (NSW, Frank Overton),  Dylan Richardson (VIC, Frank Overton),  Mitchell Baker (ACT, Jared Tallent)

10km Race Walk: Isaac Beacroft (NSW, David Beacroft), Riley Coughlan (VIC, Fran Attard), Marcus Wakim (VIC, Adam Garganis)

Women (9)

Marathon Race Walk Mixed Relay: Jemima Montag (VIC, Brent Vallance), Rebecca Henderson (VIC, Simon Baker), Olivia Sandery (SA, Jared Tallent)

20km Race Walk: Hannah Mison (NSW, Frank Overton), Elizabeth McMillen (NSW, Jared Tallent), Allanah Pitcher (NSW, Frank Overton)

10km Race Walk: Alexandra Griffin (WA, Jared Tallent), Zoe Woods (NSW, Bill Nappin), Nellie Langford (SA, Jared Tallent).

By Sascha Ryner, Athletics Australia
Posted: 27/3/2024