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Vancouver Island race walker qualifies for Olympics

Olivia Lundman, with teammate Evan Dunfee, will compete in team marathon race walk
Race walkers Evan Dunfee and Olivia Lundman celebrate after learning they will represent Canada in the new sport of team race walking at the Olympics in Paris this summer. (Photo submitted)

The last few hundred metres is when race walker Olivia Lundman would normally try for that extra kick, that final push toward the finish line.

But in the biggest race of her life Sunday, April 21, the World Athletics Race Walking Team Championships in Antalya, Turkey, she had to come to a stop with 400 metres left – to throw up. As her relay teammate yelled from the other side of the fence, Lundman willed herself forward another 40 metres, then threw up again.

“After that I ended up making it to the finish line, but that finish line seemed so far away,” she said.

Lundman collapsed at the end of the race, having given it all she had. And it was enough. She has qualified to represent Canada this summer in Paris at the Olympic games.

The Lantzville woman, who grew up competing with the Nanaimo Track and Field Club, teamed with her University of British Columbia coach Evan Dunfee to set a Canadian record in the brand-new event of team marathon race walking.

Dunfee started the race, Lundman walked the second leg, then Dunfee again, and then Lundman for the anchor leg. Soreness in her hamstrings made her anchor leg tough, the wrong sports gel upset her stomach, and she pushed herself hard.

After the race, she had to wait nearly half an hour to learn that she and her teammate had qualified for the Olympics. There were 22 spots to be won and they had placed 26th, but countries could only send a limited number of teams. After the calculations were complete, Lundman and Dunfee qualified 21st.

“I was a mix of emotions. I was worried that I’d cost us the spot in that last kilometre just because I couldn’t push it like I normally would,” Lundman said. “So first it was relief that we’d still secured the spot and then after that it was definitely happiness and excitement as the reality started to hit.”

Lundman is Canada’s fastest woman race walker, but qualifying for the Olympics in individual competition wasn’t a realistic goal for her in 2024. Once team race walk was announced last summer, however, she knew she had a better chance of making the team than anyone else, as the sport is too technical for an up-and-comer to rise quickly up the ranks.

This past weekend was her first time teaming with Dunfee in an actual race. Looking at the other athletes’ race walk times, the Canadians were pretty sure that they would be competing for one of the final qualifying spots, so they went into the race just trying to give it their best.

Race strategy is different in the relay. There’s a long enough break for the body to recover somewhat, but not fully. The athletes had an ice bath in between their racing, and ate, stretched and warmed up.

“There’s definitely lots to be learned from it, things we’re going to take and work on going forward so that in Paris we can optimize everything,” Lundman said.

As an Olympian, she’ll have more help and support, as she will receive funding over the coming months, and will be doing altitude training in St. Moritz, Switzerland, in June, and acclimatization in Barcelona in July. Then comes Paris in August.

“It’s going to take a while for me to process it and fully come to the realization that I am an Olympian and I’m going to the Olympics … Words I never really thought I’d hear myself utter,” Lundman said.

It makes her think about the coaches, teammates, family, friends, race organizers, community members and everyone else who has supported and encouraged her.

“The emotions have been all over the place lately. It kind of hits in waves,” she said.

READ ALSO: Nanaimo Track and Field Club race walker sets national record at her first meet of the season

Lundman looks forward to being part of Team Canada with her former Nanaimo Track and Field Club teammate, hammer thrower Ethan Katzberg, who had previously qualified for the Olympics after winning world and Pan-American championships last year. He set a new Canadian record on Saturday, April 20, with the world’s longest hammer throw in more than 15 years, and Lundman said that puts him up there with the sport’s best ever.

“As a Nanaimo athlete, I hope all the other athletes in Nanaimo, whether it’s part of the track club or the soccer club that I was a part of growing up, or high school, that all of those younger athletes are inspired to chase after their dreams,” Lundman said. “Because Ethan and I were in their places not even 10 years ago, and we had the same dreams and goals as they did and now here we are, achieving them.”

READ ALSO: Nanaimo’s Ethan Katzberg strikes gold in hammer throw at Pan Am Games

About the Author: Greg Sakaki

I have been in the community newspaper business for two decades, all of those years with Black Press Media.
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