Buoyed after tremendous performances at the Commonwealth Games, Australia’s talented race walking squad step back onto the world stage at the IAAF World Race Walking Team Championships in the Chinese city of Taicang this weekend.
The team will be spearheaded by newly crowned Commonwealth champions, Dane Bird-Smith and Jemima Montag who will contest the 20km walk events. Also, on the program is the 50km walk and under-20 10km walk events. Australia is sending a team of 14 athletes competing across five events over the two days of competition on May 5 and 6.
Australia’s team manager and interim high performance manager, Adam Bishop is looking forward to our prospects. “Australia has a proud history of success in international race walking. Both Dane and Jemima’s performances at the recent Commonwealth Games were outstanding and they lead a strong team in Taicang, which includes some fantastic emerging junior talent who look set to continue Australia’s success in to the future.”
MEN OPEN 20KM WALK
On paper, Dane Bird-Smith goes into the 20km walk ranked ninth, but his form at global meets over the last few years points to him being a podium hope. He travels to China in great form after missing his personal best by just six seconds on the Gold Coast last month with a time of 1:19.34.
At the last edition of this race, Bird-Smith set a then PB of 1:19.38 and missed the podium by just four seconds. He was also just 16 seconds from gold.
Heading the list of entries are three Japanese athletes who are over one minute quicker than the entire field. They all clocked sub-1:18 at their national championships in February. No doubt the athletes of the host country for the next Olympics are rounding into terrific form, but it will be intriguing to see how they perform in international competition. Also high on the list of entries are two Russian’s competing as Authorised Neutral Athletes (ANA) cleared by the IAAF to compete.
Australia have a strong lineup of five athletes. All three Commonwealth Games competitors, Dane Bird-Smith (Qld), Michael Hosking (Vic) and Rhydian Cowley (Vic) start in the race and are joined by Adam Garganis (Vic) and Brendan Reading (ACT).
Hosking, who was tenth at the Commonwealth Games makes his global international walks debut. He was unable to compete after being selected for the 2016 edition of the World Race Walking champs, however he has competed internationally, 12 years ago at the World Student cross country championships. Originally a walker in his early teens, he turned to running winning national medals in cross country and steeplechase. After a stint at national level in cycling, he returned to race walking recently.
Adam Garganis, 20, makes a step up to the senior ranks in Taicang. A talented junior in 2016 he placed 14th in the junior race at these championships and followed that with 16th on the track at the world juniors.
The experienced Rhydian Cowley, an Olympian, competes in his sixth consecutive World Race Walking Team Championships, making his debut in 2008 where he competed in the junior race. On every occasion in the senior race, he has improved his placing.
WOMEN OPEN 20KM WALK
Commonwealth champion Jemima Montag is feeling confident ahead of the 20km walk, not just off the back of her win on the Gold Coast but after a good patch of training since the Games.
“The warm conditions on the Gold Coast were challenging and so it wasn’t a particularly fast race. However, I feel as if I’ve got a personal best in me due to the fantastic training block we’ve had. I’m hoping for the perfect conditions in Taicang so that I can improve my PB (1:31:32) and enjoy my first experience of racing amongst the best senior female race walkers in the world. It will be great to lock into a rhythm with a pack and just see how brave I can be in the back end of the race.”
Montag, who is going into the race ranked 16th, is aged just 20, but is no novice on this course, having competed at the 2014 edition of these championships at the same venue. She placed 12th in the under-20 race when she was just 16 years old and is hoping for similar conditions this year.
“I competed in the 10km junior race in 2014 and I remember it being a very large field of high quality. It was a misty grey morning and the course was perfect for fast times. If these factors were to repeat themselves I’d be thrilled.”
Coached by former Commonwealth Games representative, Brent Vallance, Montag recognises her success is a team effort, despite competing in an individual sport.
“The games really showed me that even in an individual sport, the team of people around you will give you the energy you require when the going gets tough. So with that, I’m feeling full of inspiration to continue setting goals and defying what I once thought were limitations.”
Joining Montag on the start line will be Rio Olympian Rachel Tallent, who is contesting her fourth World Race Walking Team Championships, including two in the junior race. Unfortunately, Commonwealth Games representative Beki Smith has withdrawn.
WOMEN OPEN 50KM WALK
The women’s 50km walk makes its debut at these championships, following its first appearance at the IAAF world championships last year. In London, there were just seven entries and four finishers, but the growth and interest of the event has been tremendous over the last year and 33 athletes from 16 nations will contest the race in Taicang this Saturday. The field includes our very own Claire Tallent (SA), who is debuting over the distance. She was set to race this distance last December in Melbourne, but the event was unfortunately cancelled due to weather conditions. It will be her fifth appearance at these championships, commencing 14 years ago as a junior in Namburg in Germany.
MEN & WOMEN U20 10KM WALK
Australia are sending two very strong junior squads to contest the under-20 10km walk events. The men’s squad includes Declan Tingay (WA), Kyle Swan (Vic) and Mitchell Baker (ACT), while for the women, Katie Hayward (Qld), Rebecca Henderson (Vic) and Phillipa Huse (Vic) will be on the start line.
Declan Tingay and Katie Hayward are going into the championships off really impressive recent campaigns. Hayward has been in record breaking form over the last few years. In 2016 she broke the national under-18 5,000m walk record with a time of 21:39.03. In March 2018, she won the national under-20 10,000m walk title by a comfortable three minutes in a very quick time of 45:48.45. Her road best of 45:57, ranks her seventh for the championships, behind athletes from race walking powerhouses, China, Mexico and Russia (competing as ANA athletes).
Perth’s Tingay has also been in outstanding form, and particularly over the last 18 months. In December 2016, he broke the Australian under-18 5km walk record, then in March 2017, he just missed the national under-18 5000m track walk record by less than two seconds. His form continued into the 2017/18 domestic season when in January 2018 in the senior Australian 10,000m walk championships, he again narrowly missed the national record, on this occasion the under-20 record held by Dane Bird-Smith. He clocked 41:07.88, just five seconds from Bird-Smith’s standard of 41:02.18.
Records remain on Tingary’s mind going into Taicang.
“We'd love to break 41 minutes - the U20 Australian road record is 40:54, and we think that that time is completely within reach of my ability at the moment. Otherwise, and race conditions will mostly determine this, a top 8 placing.
To aid Tingary, he has experience on this course.
“I raced the Lake Taihu four-day event last year in a team with some senior international walkers. Overall the event was a ton of fun, but what stuck with me was the huge contrast between weather conditions on each of the four days. The heat and humidity made racing very hard to say the least - I found torrential rain to be the most comfortable conditions under which to walk.”
GUIDE TO THE IAAF WORLD RACE WALKING TEAM CHAMPIONSHIPS
Timetable (Times are AEST)
Saturday 5 May
10:00 50km Senior Men
10:00 50km Senior Women
17:30 10km U20 Men
18:30 20km Senior Women
Sunday 6 May
11:00 10km U20 Women
12:10 20km Senior Men
Athletics Australia’s website and social channels and the IAAF website will cover the championships.
Dane Bird-Smith (Qld)
Michael Hosking (Vic)
Rhydian Cowley (Vic)
Adam Garganis (Vic)
Brendon Reading (ACT)
Jemima Montag (Vic)
Rachel Tallent (Vic)
Claire Tallent (SA)
Men’s under 20 10km
Declan Tingay (WA)
Kyle Swan (Vic)
Mitchell Baker (ACT)
Women’s under 20 10km
Katie Hayward (Qld)
Rebecca Henderson (Vic)
Phillipa Huse (Vic)
David Tarbotton for Athletics Australia
Image: Jemima Montag (Getty Images)