2024 Olympics

UBC race walkers stepping up for Paris

Olympic bronze medallist Evan Dunfee and UBC Thunderbird athlete Olivia Lundman pair up for brand new Olympics event. 

As UBC alum and Olympic bronze medallist Evan Dunfee (BKin’14) looks to the future of his career, he knows he will one day pass the baton to the next generation of race walkers. This Olympics, that includes up-and-coming national race walker and UBC student, Olivia Lundman.  

Together in Paris, at the foot of the Eiffel Tower on the morning of August 7, Dunfee and Lundman will compete together in the mixed team relay. This Olympics will be Dunfee’s third and Lundman’s first. 

Race walking is a long-distance race with specific rules: athletes must always have one foot on the ground, as visible to the naked eye, and when the foot hits the ground, the knee must be straight as the body passes over it. 

UBC is the only Canadian university that offers race walking in its varsity track and field team. That made it easy for Lundman, a kinesiology student entering her fourth year, to choose. UBC was also close to her home and where Dunfee had gone to university. 

“I’d been following Evan’s journey for a while and seeing him succeed at UBC was what ultimately drew me to UBC,” says Lundman.  

Pairing up 

Dunfee’s journey from being a UBC Thunderbird athlete to Olympian and now coach was a natural progression. 

“It was a matter of when, not if, I’d step up to become a race-walking coach for UBC,” says Dunfee.  

After seeing Lundman’s progress skyrocket, Dunfee figured they’d have a stronger chance to qualify for the mixed relay event at the Olympics than the individual event. 

“While the women’s individual event was still too much of a jump for Olivia, we knew the mixed relay was our best bet to give her a chance to experience the Olympics early on,” says Dunfee. “The experience will be invaluable to her as an athlete.” 

The mixed team relay, new to the Olympics this year, features one male and one female athlete who complete the marathon distance (42.195 km) in four alternating stages of approximately 10 kilometres each. 

“Having Evan as my coach and teammate is awesome,” says Lundman. “I’ve learned so much from him as my role model and mentor.” 

They have not been working together long, but Dunfee is amazed at how far Lundman has come. 

“Olivia is a phenomenal athlete,” says Dunfee. “It’s incredible how much further ahead she is at 21 years old compared to me when I was her age.” 

Walk up to the Olympics  

Lundman can still recall the moment she found out she would be going to the Olympics. She had just finished the qualifying event with Dunfee in Türkiye — one of the hardest races she’s ever done. To qualify for the Olympics, they had to finish in the top 22.   

“I was struggling at the end of my last 10 kilometres,” she says. “I stopped to vomit twice and willed myself to the finish line as fast as I could. I had no idea where our position was, and I was worried my struggles might have cost us our qualification.” 

Once Lundman finished her race, Dunfee wheeled her straight to the team tent to recover from the gruelling endeavour. After about 15 minutes of waiting, keeping her hopes low, she was relieved when she found out they were successful.  

“That night, I couldn’t sleep because I was so excited knowing that I’m going to the Olympics at the age of 21,” she says. 

Dunfee was also ecstatic to have qualified for the relay. He had already qualified for the individual 20km event.   

“It was a tough race, but I’m glad we’re going to the Olympics as a team,” he says. 

Over the next few weeks, Lundman and Dunfee will be preparing in Europe. They’ll travel first to Switzerland for altitude training and to Spain for heat training. Then, it’s off to the races in Paris.  

For Dunfee, having the opportunity to coach and compete alongside Lundman makes his role as a race walker even more fulfilling.  

“It means a lot that we’re competing together in the Olympics,” he says. “I’m going to get to show her the ropes, and I believe she’s going to carry the UBC race-walking torch for many years to come.”