I felt like my entire life had been leading up to Saturday 5 May 2018. For so many reasons.
I have always felt that women’s sport is hard. As a young child, I was bullied and ostracized by other children and parents because I wanted to play football. I wanted to be like my big brothers, run around, kick the football. I couldn’t see societal restraints that it was “something for the boys”.
This notion was reinforced throughout my primary school years. My school uniform consisted of a dress in summer, long skirt in winter and netball skirt for PE. Physical activity, was actively discouraged. I was told that there was to be no cartwheels and no hanging off the monkey bars because people could see up my skirt.
These early experiences didn’t deter my enthusiasm for sport participation. I loved it all. Every free moment I had would be spent shooting hoops, riding my bike around the block, hitting the tennis ball against the wall. Give me a sport and I would try it. My senior years of school I participated in every representative sport that was on offer. I loved it all and knew I wanted to go to the Olympics.
Even when my opportunity came to represent my country at the Olympic Games in the 20km walk, I still never thought that it was a perfect fit. I wasn’t a “fast” race walker. In training, I always seemed to recover well. I could back up day after day. Distance came easy.
When I retired after London 2012 I moved into a new chapter of my sporting career, but was inevitably faced by the challenges I had already endured. I moved into coaching Jared and was continuously challenged by moving in on the “old boys club”. Although I hold degrees in Sports Science and Education and had represented my country at the highest level, my coaching qualifications were challenged. My motivation was challenged, after all, I was “Jared’s wife”.
In the European summer of 2016, I found my groove. I challenged Jared that I would do every single kilometre with him in preparation for the Rio 50km walk. True to my word. I did. I jogged alongside Jared in every rep session, every afternoon session and every long walk. I carried his drink bottles and his feeding and provided motivation and encouragement.
Within one ten-day period Jared completed two 40km and one 45km walks. I jogged alongside him. Without any thought I jogged 42.2km (because I wanted to do a marathon and had never been that far), 45km and 40km. Others were astounded by my innate endurance.
A couple of months after giving birth to my son, Harvey, I found myself in a position to again represent Australia at the world championships. I was ecstatic. While I knew that my performance at the world championships would be far from the standard I would hope to achieve, I had something to prove. I was confronted during my pregnancy by misguided notions of what it was to be pregnant and doing what was “best for the baby”. I saw the world championships as an opportunity to show the strength of women.
During this period, the 50km walk for women was added to World Championships program. I had longed hoped that this day would come. I would have loved to have known a year earlier, just so I could have qualified.
I have always admired what the female walkers of the past had achieved. They were so patient. So many of the athletes competed for years without the opportunity to go to the Olympics. I was always embarrassed that female walkers didn’t get their chance until 1992.
The women’s 50km walk for me is a no-brainer. The 50km walk has been a men’s athletic event since the beginning of time. Women should be afforded the same opportunity.
I was excited to be selected to represent Australia at the World Walking Team Championships. But I was also immersed in fear. I felt that I had to validate my selection in the team, having not been able to show that I can compete over 50km.
I felt pressure that we, as female pioneers, had to “put on a good show”. For the event to continue to grow and be offered at future championships.
I felt the burden of all the female walkers of years past. Those who would have loved to race the distance but were not afforded the opportunity. Those who had successfully set high standards, progressed the event, and broke down barriers for future generations.
I had a personal fear of being able to race it well. I was not fearful of going the distance, and I wasn’t fearful of my projected pace. I was fearful of being able to combine them successfully. All I desired was to get to the finish line knowing that I couldn’t go a step further. That I had laid it all on the line. But, I had to be able to find the finish line first.
The race itself has been well documented. But new battles ensue. There is still not parity in funding support for this event. We are yet to be added to the Olympic schedule.
For the moment though, the World Walking Teams Championships Women’s 50km was a huge success. I look forward to watching on as the event grows and more barriers are broken down for women, across all sport in the future.
Congratulations Claire Tallent on a successful 50km Walks debut at the World Walking Teams Championships claiming the BRONZE medal!