Imagine – duelling in a sword fight where the first to strike is victor.
Then diving into turbulent waters to swim 200 metres, out of there and mounting a steed, to whom you were unacquainted, but 20 minutes ago, navigating around a treacherous obstacle course and then taking to the road for three kilometres, stopping after each one to fire off rounds from your pistol at five stationary targets…
But what is this? Preparation for battle? The tasks of Hercules? A Green Beret mission? No, this is the modern pentathlon, the arduous event that Clitheroe’s Samantha Murray hopes to tame to bring an Olympic medal back to East Lancashire.
With such a diverse selection of disciplines, the modern pentathlon isn’t an event you are introduced to in PE at school.
Sam loved swimming as a schoolgirl and was fortunate to be able to learn to ride at her grandmother’s livery stables, but how do you get from normal hobbies to shoots and duels?
She said: “A guy at my swimming club was trying to recruit people to do a biathlon, which is just a run and a swim, so when I was about 11, I asked my mum if I could do a biathlon. I went and did it and I completely fell in love with running!”
On hearing this, Sam’s coach suggested trying the pentathlon, with her only needing to pick up the fencing and shooting elements, but surely this would be too much for one so young to take on board? “I was a young athletic girl, lots of energy, loved being outside, loved doing sports and I thought it was great. I gave it a crack and it just all came together.”
Recalling the hectic schedule of her early days without a hint of frustration or inconvenience, Sam speaks with an air of certainty.
In a sport where there’s no limit to the cost, travelling to four or five different clubs for coaching, all the specialist equipment, and the global nature of competitions, she sacrificed much of the social life her school and college friends enjoyed, all in the pursuit of glory.
“It was difficult really, I was going to Blackburn Harriers running club, went swimming to Bobcats in Burnley, for fencing my mum used to drive me to Stockport, Bolton sometimes, we used to cover Lancashire! It was crazy when I think about it!”
All this hard work, all this dedication, it really puts the efforts of us in the football industry to shame. Our rewards are visible on a daily basis, from the potential financial gain to the acclaim and status, even for a professional at a small club.
In stark contrast, the modern pentathlon is a very closed audience, even at the top of the sport the plaudits are only given by those in the know, so what is it that drives this young woman to break the pain barrier on a daily basis, like she does? “The Olympic Games is the chance for the Modern Pentathlete to get their name out there, it is the pinnacle of their career to win an Olympic medal.
“It means everything, and since the age of 12 it’s been my goal, it’s been my dream. It’s why I’m here, it’s why I’m living this life, it’s everything.”
Sam trains in Bath, at the GB Centre of Excellence, whilst studying for a degree at the same time. Even though juggling a rigorous schedule with extensive studies must be taxing, she relays her routine with a relaxed and upbeat tone.
All of the GB Olympic hopefuls train together here, five ladies pushing each other to the limit, but ultimately there are only two places available on the team.
Does this ever cross the mind of our lovable Lancashire lass? “Of course it does! We’re five ambitious, feisty women, all training to get to the Olympics in those two spots. We’re all nice to each other but, underneath, we hate each other’s guts!”
I thought so! I’m not fooled by the friendly tone, the pleasant and cordial manner. Herein lies the cold, calculated, steely determination of a winner. I feel a touch of sympathy for her colleagues, on this evidence, they’re fighting for the one remaining place!
Sam continues her quest for Olympic glory in two upcoming events on home soil. The World Cup final in London in July offers Olympic qualification to the winner, and the European Championships in Medway, from July 28th to August 1st, reward the top eight with the same.
I wish Sam every success in her pursuit of gold, and when she says “I have to be there, it’s what I was born to do”, I don’t even think Spartacus himself could stop her!
• SAM is this week part of an eight-strong GB team at the second World Cup of the year in Italy.
She was seventh in Palm Springs in the first, and is currently ranked 17th in the world.
The women’s semi-finals are today, and the final is on Saturday.