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  • Writer's pictureThathe Msimango

Mixed feelings for Mundell who walks new SA 50km record but misses automatic Olympic qualification

Marc Mundell produced a scintillating performance of 3:53:09 to set a new African and South African 50km walk record at the World Athletics Dudince 50 Race Walking Permit race in Slovakia on Saturday. The 37-year-old Pietemaritzburg-born athlete was expecting to walk that fast in 2021, but perhaps not this early on in his international season, especially given the cold weather conditions on race day.

"I'm delighted with my performance," said the athlete who now lives in Canada. "Yes, I did expect this performance this year, although I was actually aiming for it at this very race in 2020, which was postponed due to Covid 19 lockdown in Europe last March. After the disappointment of not racing a 50km in 2020, I focused on the 40th edition of the event this year," he explained. "Preparations during the Canadian winter were challenging, especially with the Covid19 travel restrictions and quarantine requirements. Much of my preparations were done indoors in the basement on the treadmill as a result of frigid temperatures. I recall a day in February where it was -39 with real feel of -46 degrees. This required a unique adaptation of the training programme to suit the weather conditions and my training environment. Preparations were also difficult for me evaluate as I had not started a race since my 20km Personal Best in Dublin, Ireland in March 2020. But my coach and I were confident that I was in PB shape and capable of attacking the Olympic qualification standard, even though it was more than 4 minutes faster than my Personal Best of 3h54:12 set in Melbourne, Australia in December 2015," Mundell told #TheTopRunner.

Mundell in action at the 2016 African Champs in Durban which he used as part of his preparations for Rio 2016. Photo Credit: Roger Sedres.

"Dudince is a happy hunting ground for me as I qualified for Rio 2016 at both the 2015 and 2016 editions, when the qualification standard was 3h59:00. I worked very hard for this race and placed a huge amount of pressure on myself to achieve a personal best and ideally the Olympic Automatic standard. My preparations went as well as I could have for them given the turbulent times," reflects Mundell. Although happy about his new PB and SA Record, his celebrations have been muted because he failed to achieve the automatic Olympic qualifying standard for #Tokyo2021. "I set out to improve my international ranking points to qualify for Tokyo," he said.m"With so few races available since March 2020, I went all in for one final attempt in the 50km. (It would not be optimal to attempt two 50km races in a couple of weeks before the qualification deadline (May 31st) and still hope to compete in Tokyo in August. I was confident of achieving a personal best, but desperately wanted to attain the World Athletics Automatic standard of 3h50:00. I was very close at 41km but struggled in the final 8km, although I was delighted to improve my personal best," he said. Throughout the difficult times, Mundell says his wife has been a pillar of strength without whom his new PB would have been impossible to set. "I believe that I will have increased my rankings points to approximately 1129 points and will wait to see if that is sufficient for the top 60 allocation for the event. I am extremely appreciatively of the unwavering support from my wife who has afforded me the opportunity to chase qualification for my third Olympics. I am indebted to my Coach, Jamie Costin for all his support and encouragement since the 2019 World Championships (and previously between 2011 and 2017) I greatly appreciate the support of my family & friends, training partners, and Athletics South Africa that all contributed towards this performance."

Mundell and former AGN President John Mathane with some young Athletics SWD walkers during the ASA 50km and Interprovincial Race Walking Championships at Youngsfield Military base in October 2016. Photo Credit: Roger Sedres.

Apart from his own performance, Mundell is impressed with the growth of race walking in the country. "I think it shows that with dedication and sacrifices, many goals can be achieved. I take great confidence from the reflection that at London 2012 South Africa had 1 race walker, while four years later, there were four in Rio. The four Olympians have provided much exposure for the sport, although it remains extremely difficult to qualify for the World Championships or Olympics in South Africa. Race Walking is a unique event, requiring qualification performances to be attained at events judged by three international judges on a certified course. With the exception of the 2016 African Championships hosted in Durban, only the 2011 SA 50km Championships hosted by WPA at Youngsfield Military Base met these requirements."

Despite the challenges faced by race walkers in the country of his birth, Mundell remains positive and is keen to compete in the country once again. He hopes that the South African championships will serve as good Olympic preparation for him even if his entry isn't secured yet.

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