Olympic dream for Hillcrest High old boy

2016-08-09 06:00
 Photo: supplied Mark Mundell aims to bring home the gold from the 2016 Olympics.

Photo: supplied Mark Mundell aims to bring home the gold from the 2016 Olympics.

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THE 2016 Olympics began on Friday - the first Olympic Games held in South America.
Bringing it home, Hillcrest High School, old boys have qualified to take part in this most prestigious of sporting events. Marc Mundell (33) for race walking.

Mundell matriculated at Hillcrest High in 2001 as deputy head prefect, and included among his school sporting achievements: representing KZN in cross-country, badminton, softball, hockey, KZN Mynahs Cricket and SA schools in athletics. Although fully involved in other sports whilst at school, Mundell was inspired to enter the world of race-walking, by his father (Ollie Mundell - a teacher at Hillcrest High), an international race walker.

At the age of 12 Mundell first represented KZN in race-walking at the U17 SA champs, and has taken part in them for the past 21 years.

Although race walking never held the same veneration as playing 1st rugby did at high school (where he was also 1st XV vice captain), he persisted, realising that with race walking, he could make it all the way to the top. Mundell selected the 50km event to specialise in (like his dad) and felt that a lack of pure talent, could be compensated for by really hard training and persistence.

And he certainly is a young man of hard-work and persistence. Training consists of walks 12 times per week, with a morning session (starting predawn at 4.30am) of some 10-15kms, and speed sessions in the evening, all adding up to a whopping 140-150km a week. In addition, he does four gym sessions per week.

Most of this is done alone, the heart rate monitor and stopwatch being his only company.

It is this kind of focus that has helped this incredible young man to get all the way to the top. Mundell realised he could set his sights on the Olympics during the SA Schools meeting in 2000 in Sydney (where they hosted the Olympics that year).

This then became his dream goal. After much hard work and persistence, it finally paid off and he was selected to participate in the 2012 Olympics.

However, a few days before the London Olympics, Mundell aggravated a previously badly injured knee and was instructed by the team doctor not to race. Not to be stripped of his dream, he raced anyway, and set a new Africa record for the 50km.

After London, Mundell had to have his knee operated on and it took a full year to get back to full strength again. He then competed at the World Athletics Champs in Moscow in 2013 as well as Beijing in 2015 (as team captain). He then qualified four times for Rio in the past year setting another new African record.

As further show of his incredible commitment and to give himself the best chance for achieving gold in Rio, he resigned from his job in May 2015 to concentrate on training leading to the four qualifying times.

However, as if his previous challenges weren’t enough, in May this year Mundell contracted tick bite fever and the Coxsackie virus infection, and was hardly able to even move around the house. He had to withdraw from the Racewalk World Cup, where his recent times would have potentially placed him in the top six finishers.

After hospitalisation, strong medicine and a diet of fruit and raw vegetable juices three times a day, he recovered and was able to resume training after a month, build himself up and be ready for the 50k in Rio on 19 August.

For those who don’t know much about the sport, Mundell explains what it means to reach the Olympics as a race walker: “When I was selected for London, I was the first male to be selected since 1960 so when I returned, I came back saying that I had now opened the door for others.

“I have competed at SA Schools level, SA University, World Racewalk Cup, and World Champs, but this [Olympics]”, he says, “is the ultimate, in terms of achievements. The hype at the games, the scarcity of Olympic opportunities (only held every four years) and the high qualifying standard make the Olympics the goal that all top athletes strive to get to.”

Mundell’s message to his Hillcrest High alumni: “Although the goals are high, they can be reached and the pupils at school, and those who have left need to ‘go for gold’ [Hillcrest High’s theme for the year] and aim to be selected for Tokyo,” he concluded.

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