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Commonwealth gold medalist Montag inspired by Holocaust-surviving grandmother

Racewalker, who came first in 10,000 meters at 2022 Birmingham games, wears lucky gold bracelet made from grandmother’s necklace: ‘It reminds me of strength and resilience’

Australian gold medalist Jemima Montag celebrates on the podium during the medal ceremony for the women's 10,000m athletics event at the Alexander Stadium, in Birmingham on day nine of the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, central England, August 6, 2022. (Ben Stansall/AFP)
Australian gold medalist Jemima Montag celebrates on the podium during the medal ceremony for the women's 10,000m athletics event at the Alexander Stadium, in Birmingham on day nine of the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, central England, August 6, 2022. (Ben Stansall/AFP)

Australian racewalker Jemima Montag says she draws on the strength of her late grandmother, who was a Holocaust survivor, after winning her second Commonwealth Games gold medal in Birmingham on Saturday.

The 24-year-old wears a lucky gold bracelet, part of a piece of jewelry that belonged to her grandmother, Judith, who survived the horrors of Auschwitz and died before the Tokyo Olympics last year.

Montag eased to victory on Saturday in the 10,000-meter walk, finishing the race in 42 minutes and 34 seconds and wiping tears from her eyes after crossing the line four years after she triumphed on the Gold Coast in the 20km walk.

She is the first woman to defend a gold medal in racewalking since Jane Saville defended her title in 2006.

Montag’s walk in 2018 overcame Saville’s Australian and Oceania record, set in 2004 at the Athens Summer Olympics by 10 seconds.

“What I take from that is, in a race, it is one kilometer at a time and not thinking about the finish line,” she said.

Australia’s Jemima Montag competes during the women’s 10,000m walk final athletics event at the Alexander Stadium, in Birmingham on August 6, 2022. (Glyn KIRK / AFP)

“She (her grandmother) teaches me to take one step at a time and it also puts things into perspective,” Montag said.

“Towards the end of the Holocaust, they marched through snow and cold for days on end in little sandals and hardly any clothing.

“She and her sister took waistbands and tied their wrists together and said ’we are getting through this together or not at all.'”

Montag and her two sisters, Piper and Amanda, all wear the golden bracelets, made from a necklace.

“I wear my nana’s bracelet as a lucky charm now. And it reminds me of that strength and resilience,” Montag told the Australian Broadcasting Channel before the race.

The science graduate, who works for a company that delivers meals to underprivileged families, says she researched her grandmother’s life after she returned from the Tokyo Games.

Gold medalist Australia’s Jemima Montag (center) on the podium with silver medalist India’s Priyanka (left) and bronze medalist Kenya’s Emily Wamusyi Ngii during the medal ceremony for the women’s 10,000m athletics event at the Alexander Stadium, in Birmingham on day nine of the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, central England, August 6, 2022. (Ben Stansall/AFP)

“In the months after the Olympics, my aunty and I went through her love letters and had them translated by a Polish racewalker friend,” said Montag.

“She had photos, passports, and bracelets.”

Montag said it was deeply humbling to learn of the daily horrors and privations her grandmother and family experienced under the Nazis.

“To uncover the amount of grit, perseverance, and mindfulness and presence that they had to have,” she said.

“In some letters and journal entries, she wrote about just trying to make it through the next hour and next day, and meet her dad at the gate with a piece of bread.”

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