Above: Alana Barber in second position behind eventual winner Jemima Montag during the women's 20km race walk at the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games. Photo by Alan McDonald / MacSpeedfoto.
Alana Barber walked the race of her career to take the silver medal in the 20km race walk on the Currumbin Beachfront.
The 30 year old overcame cramping over the closing stages to finish in 1:34:18, 1:28 behind Jemima Montag of Australia.
With the heat of the day rising throughout the race no one was willing to take the early pace. Barber took up the challenge before the Australian pair of Montag and Claire Tallent decided to spice it up out front.
It was going to plan for Barber who stuck with them up to 7km.
“The first few laps no one wanted to take the lead so I was okay with taking the lead as we were going ridiculously slow which I thought could happen as no one wants to take charge but that was fine I knew I needed to keep control, and who ever went in front of me, to stay with them,” said Barber who holds the New Zealand record of 1:32:19.
“It was quite comfortable going through the middle stages, I was taking on plenty of fluid which I knew I needed to do and keeping as cold as possible because the temperature was getting up.”
Over the final 5km with Montag and Tallent going hammer and tongs out front Barber was happy to hold her form and race in for the bronze medal.
With 2k to go Tallent was disqualified, leaving Barber in the silver medal position.
“Over the last 5k my legs started cramping up quite badly so I’m glad there was no one around me, because I just knew I had to get to the finish line quickly because I didn’t know how much more I could have walked,” said Barber.
“It’s heart breaking for Claire, she was silver in New Delhi and I knew she wanted that gold. She is my friend, there’s not a huge group of race walkers at an elite level especially in the Commonwealth so we’re actually all friends we all train together. I saw her on the ground and that was a bit of a shock, but I just needed to keep to the plan, keep patient and keep ticking those laps off.
“I don’t mind unexpected things happening, when I go into a race like this I know it’s a long way, it’s 90 minutes and anything can happen, including myself with the cramping I had to be careful that I wouldn’t be another fatality.”
Bethan Davies of Wales was third in 1:36:08.
Jemima Montag and Barber are coached by the same Australian coach, Brent Vallance.
“Jemima and I have trained together for the last few weeks leading up to this competition and I knew she was in really good form and I knew we would be quite close together.
“It was well worth while having my parents here to watch, especially my dad leaving the country for the first time in 45 years,” said Barber.
David Barber has a fear of being in confined spaces, which includes flying.
Alana has a background in running following her mother Shirley (Somervell) who represented New Zealand at the 1974 Christchurch Commonwealth Games where she finished seventh in the 800m final.
Both her parents David and Shirley are race walkers in Auckland and Alana received plenty of encouragement when she switched from running to walking.
“That’s the best part of being here it’s not just the silver medal for New Zealand but it’s also that both my parents could be here watching.”
Her next race will be over 20km again in China in a month’s time.
Barber joins Anne Judkins as the only New Zealand women to win a walking medal at a Commonwealth Games. Judkins also took silver in the 19km walk at the 1990 Auckland Commonwealth Games.
Quentin Rew in the earlier men’s 20km finished fifth in 1:21:47. Dane Bird-Smith of Australia won gold in 1:19:34, in a close finish with Tom Bosworth of England 1:19:38 and Kenyan Samuel Ireri Gathimba 1:19:51 all three going under the Games record of 1:19:55 set by Nathan Deakes in Melbourne in 2006. Rew holds the New Zealand record at 1:21:12.
Rew said the pace was on from the start.
“The first half was really fast, I’ve never gone through that fast through 5k or 10k in any 20k race I’ve done. It was really fast from the get go, Dane particularly really pushed it right from the start. I came here to get a medal and so I knew if I was going to put myself in a position to get on the podium I had to be a bit aggressive, but I wasn’t going crazy as I knew I couldn’t stick with those front guys so I let them get away a little bit in the first half and then I found myself in no man’s land. I was ready to attack if one of them fell back but they were just getting faster and faster,” said Rew.
“It was just one of those things. I can’t change what anyone else does so I was ready to pounce if one of them fell off.
“Three of them were under the Commonwealth record so it was a really fast pace.”
Rew received Incredible Kiwi support.
“Gold Coast must be our second biggest city behind Auckland, so it was a really good crowd and a good atmosphere and really positive.”
“I’m off to China for world teams championship next month which is a 50k which will suit me much better as I’m better at 50k than 20k,” he added.
Athletics New Zealand Correspondent