This article originally appeared on athletics.org.au – home of Athletics Australia: http://www.athletics.com.au/News/jemima-and-the-birdman-win-double-gold-day-1-morning-session-cg2018
Dane Bird-Smith (Qld) and Jemima Montag have won a sensational double-gold for Australia in the 20km Race Walk on the first day of athletics at the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast. It was the first double gold in athletics since 2006 when Jane Saville and Nathan Deakes also won on home soil.
Bird-Smith’s victory was a hard fought one as he prevailed in a battle royale over the closing stages with England’s Tom Bosworth to set a new Games record of 1:19:34 that shattered Nathan Deakes 2006 standard by 21 seconds.
Bird-Smith was elated with the win saying “I went in there as the man to beat, and these boys came out to fight me. What an amazing race. I can’t thank the crowd enough.”
“The last 500m hurt so much but I had everyone behind me which made it so special. It was unbelievable, an unreal feeling. I am over the moon and I cannot thank (the crowd) enough. As I came around the bend they went absolutely ballistic.” said the Queenslander.
Bird-Smith’s father and coach David Smith was “shaking like a leaf” with 700 metres remaining in the race, emphasising that today was “about racing” detailing the pre-race plan, “we worked on a negative split, I don’t think he’s ever gone sub-1:20:00 without a negative split, he comes home hard and I’m so happy for him”.
Fellow Australian’s Michael Hosking (VIC) and Rhydian Cowley (VIC) exceeded their pre-race rankings, finishing 10th (1:25:35) and 11th respectively (1:26:12), in the deepest field ever at a Commonwealth Games as both Bosworth (1:19:38) and Samuel Gathimba 1:19:51 (KEN) both went under Deakes’ mark of 1:19:55.
Bird-Smith a very popular Australian team member, admitted that the national pressure to medal was a ‘privilege’, feeling an obligation to get the Australian team off to a motivating start after the injury withdrawal of team captain Sally Pearson.
Conditions were challenging on the picturesque Currumbin Beachfront with humidity close to 90% on the one-kilometre street loop, a course constructed with Bird-Smith’s input.
Bird-Smith had embraced the lead early on, with firm pace just under the four-minute per kilometre mark. A group of eight broke away following three kilometres (12:09) included Hosking, Bird-Smith, Bosworth, Gathimba, Simon Wachira (KEN), followed closely by well-credentialed Canadian’s Evan Dunfee and Benjamin Thorne.
Pre-race favourite Lebogang Shange (South Africa) lost contact with the leading group prior to four kilometres, as Bird-Smith worked to gain small gaps on each uphill section of the course.
Bosworth and Gathimba had pressured Bird-Smith throughout the race, and Bosworth faltered briefly at the 11-kilometre mark, with Gathimba’s two red cards limited his risk-taking options.
Entering the final turn, Bird-Smith made a break for gold, finally breaking Bosworth’s resolve with the 20th kilometre walked in 3:43, by far the fastest split of the race. Bird-Smith’s brutal pre-race preparation on Rainbow Beach rewarded him with a Games record, celebrating with family immediately after crossing the finish line.
In just the third 20-kilometre race of her life, the 20-year old Jemima Montag stunned onlookers taking an early lead, maintaining a strong pace throughout to cross for the gold medal in 1:32:50 a mere four seconds outside of Jane Saville’s 2006 Games record of 1:32.46. Montag became the youngest ever winner of a Commonwealth walk crown and credited her composure over the final lap to coach Brent Vallance, “I made sure to listen out for him, reminding me to stay strong over the last lap”.
Montag high-fived spectators entering the finishing chute, with enough time to drape an Australian flag around her shoulders, a new Australia race walking star was crowned.
“It was just amazing, it’s only my third time racing this distance so to come away with a win is amazing. The race, being in Australia with my friends and family on the sidelines, it didn’t even feel like I was racing. I was being pushed along by their support.” said the Victorian.
It was heartache though for Claire Tallent as the South Australian was dramatically disqualified just after making a break for gold in the final kilometre.
And Montag felt for her teammate “It’s not the way that I would have liked to win gold but when things like that happen, you have to stay in the moment and not lose focus. Claire is a beautiful girl and she’s done it before, she’ll come back stronger.”
Earlier, Montag had broken the race apart alongside fellow Australian teammates Claire Tallent(SA), Beki Smith (NSW), as New Zealand’s Alana Barber followed the early break.
Montag, Tallent and Barber’s lead grew, as Smith lost contact after the 8-kilometre mark. The 10-kilometre mark, reached in 46:01, saw Tallent and Montag turn the race into a head-to-head duel, as Barber dropped away from the pair.
Smith hung on bravely through 10-kilometres in fourth position, as Montag developed her first leading gap after 12-kilometres, with Tallent’s two red cards restricting her pace, the 36-year old returned to Montag’s shoulder at the 17-kilometre mark.
Approaching the 19-kilometre mark, Tallent made her move, developing a small gap on Montag, only to receive a heartbreaking third red card for a loss of foot contact, resulting in disqualification.
It was the perfect start for the Australians, as action on Day 1 continues with the first session at Carrara Stadium kicking off at 2:00pm. Matt Denny (Qld) in the hammer, Erin Cleaver (NSW) in the T38 Long Jump finals look to be our best chances to continue the gold rush. Morgan McDonald (NSW) is our leading contender in a Aussie trio, along with Victorian David McNeill and Tasmanian Stewart McSweyn), who take to the track in the men’s 5000m final.