University of Melbourne Students Go To The Games

14 August 2018

The University of Melbourne is well known for its academic credentials, but fewer people are aware of the athletic prowess it boasts. Earlier this year, University of Melbourne students and alumni won one gold, two silver and one bronze at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games.

Current Students:

Physiotherapy student, David McNeill, was a part of the Australian Athletics Team and qualified for the final in the men’s 5,000m. McNeill finished 12th in that race, in a time of 14 minutes, 24 seconds and 51 milliseconds. McNeill had previously finished eighth in the 5,000m at the 2010 Delhi Commonwealth Games, as well as competing at the Olympic Games in London in 2012 and Rio de Janeiro in 2016.

Twenty-year-old Science student, Jemima Montag, won gold in the women’s 20km walk, crossing the finish line in one hour, 32 minutes and 50 seconds, just four seconds off the Commonwealth Games record. This was only her third competitive race over 20km.

Montag spoke to Farrago about the challenges of balancing being a student and a professional athlete:

“Balancing study and training isn’t always easy. There have been occasions this year where I’ve found myself completely overwhelmed because I’m trying to do both of them to the highest level possible and there just aren’t enough hours in the day. I turn to people like my training partner, Amelia, or my mum for advice, and they work through things with me to set me back on track.

“I’ve found out there is no such thing as balance. It’s just not doable to have everything in perfect harmony all the time. Realising that was the most freeing feeling.

“I do think that my training is a wonderful release from all the study and simultaneously that sitting down and challenging my brain and learning new things is an awesome contrast to the physical challenges of my sport.”

Arts student, Hayley Baker, was a member of the dominant Australian Dolphins Swim Team, which collected an incredible 73 medals at the Games. Baker is the first graduate of the Australian Institute of Sport National Training Centre program to make the Australian team. At the Games, Baker qualified for the final in both the 100m and 200m backstroke events, finishing sixth in both finals.

Baker also spoke to Farrago about the Games, her training regime and how she handles the student–athlete balance:

“It’s a bit of back-and-forth between Melbourne and Canberra. I actually took a leave of absence while the Games were on to lighten the load. Balancing is really just about prioritising, and making the most of your resources.

“We do our heaviest training in season, when we don’t have any big competitions coming up.

“We’ve already got an aerobic base from season training, but leading into trials, we do a lot of high-intensity speed work so our bodies are conditioned for what we’ll need in the race. By the time we get to the heats at the Games, we’re not training as hard and we do what’s called a taper.”

Montag was thrilled to win gold at the Games:

“It felt like I was living out a childhood dream. But unlike a dream, it felt so real, familiar and natural. Before the race I wondered if it was possible. I hoped it was. But as soon as the race began, there was no other option. I was on a mission and nothing was going to stop me.”

Baker and Montag are already looking towards future competitions on the world stage.

“Gwangju 2019 [World Championships] and the Tokyo 2020 Olympics are definitely the goals. I think I’m in a really good place coming off the Games,” commented Baker.

“I would just like to give a shout out to Melbourne Uni Sport and the Faculty of Arts for their support. I couldn’t make this all work without them!”

For Montag, “Tokyo is absolutely the dream. We’ve got two years to work towards it and for my event, the heat and humidity will be the biggest challenge, so the next phase of training will be tailored so I can become as adapted as possible to racing in those conditions.

“Representing Australia in the Olympics would be an incredible honour which I am willing to do anything for, and Japan is such an awesome country so I feel as though this is just a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

Commerce alumnus, Joanna Weston, was a part of the Australian Diamonds netball team, which claimed silver at the Games. Weston plays in defence, predominantly goal defence, and is playing for the Melbourne Vixens in the 2018 Suncorp Super Netball.

Medicine alumnus, Elena Galiabovitch, achieved silver in the women’s 25m pistol and bronze in the women’s 10m pistol. This was her Commonwealth Games debut, after competing at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games. In both events, she was the highest-ranked Australian.

Science alumnus, Joel Baden, finished 17th in the men’s high jump qualifying round. Baden cleared 2.15m, but unfortunately could not clear 2.18m and did not qualify for the final. He also competed in the men’s high jump at the most recent Olympic Games, held in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro.

Engineering alumnus, Barak Mizrachi, competed in the table tennis men’s TT6-10 singles. Mizrachi completed the group stage with one win and two losses. He also took part in the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

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