Clitheroe athlete aims for British pentathlon team at London 2012 Olympics

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SAMANTHA Murray is giving mind, body and soul in her quest to win a place at the Olympics.

The Clitheroe athlete is competing for one of two women’s places available in the Great Britain Modern Pentathlon team for London 2012, and has started the year with a bang, winning the Hungarian Indoor Championships in Budapest in February, before, last weekend, earning a sixth-place finish at the opening World Cup of the year in Charlotte, North Carolina.

The 22-year-old has implemented successful changes to her preparations for the sport - which takes in pistol shooting, epee fencing, 200m freestyle swimming, show jumping and a 3 km cross country run.

And she explained: “I’ve made lifestyle changes, in that I study French and Politics part-time now at Bath University for my degree - I’ve just been training and sleeping and it wasn’t possible to combine everything, so I’ve split my final year.

“I just know training 30 hours a week and the pressure of my final year was not going to happen, so I cut it by half.

“But I’ve also done a lot of psychology, which is important in competition, particularly to help improve my shooting, to focus on myself, and not get distracted by what’s going on around me.

“It’s all about keeping my rhythm, using meditation, breathing exercises and imagery - sports psychology is a massive part of performance, and competing at this level you have to have yout mind ready and right.”

The flesh is willing, and the spirit is strong as well, but, unfortunately, Samantha finds herself in an event which is one of Britain’s most successful at Olympic level.

For this weekend’s World Cup in Rio, only Russia and Britain had four women in the final, and since the sport for women was introduced to the Olympics at Sydney 2000, Britain’s women have won four Olympic medals – or 66% of the medals available to them.

Steph Cook won gold and Kate Allenby bronze at Sydney 2000, with Georgina Harland winning bronze at Athens in 2004 and Heather Fell winning Olympic silver at the Beijing 2008 Games.

Samantha is realistic to know that, while all eyes are on a home games, the Olympics is the Olympics, and if she has to wait until Rio de Janeiro in four years’ time, so be it: “It’s very difficult with the competition for two places on the team, and Freyja Prentice already has the qualifying standard from the Euro’s last year.

“So it’s about trying to medal at the World Cups and move yourself up the World rankings, and hopefully get a place at the World Championships in Rome in May.

“I’ve just got to beat the girls consistently now.

“The Olympics is the pinnacle, but with it being on home soil, there’s added pressure. This is my job, and you can be in the top 20 in the world, but if you’re not in the top two British girls, you won’t make it.

“I don’t think people appreciate how tough it is, we train as a team, but are individual athletes, and you have to have your best poker face on and get on with your job.”

Four British women achieved the qualifying standard for Beijing, but only two could compete, and Samantha feels time is on her side: “You tend to hit your peak at 25, but running and shooting is towards the late 20s.

“Fencing and shooting tends to be in your 40s as there is so much skill involved, and with experience you can only get better.

“If the body can keep up with training and competing, you can go on for a long time, but I’m looking at 2016 in Rio, I’ll be 26 then and it will probably be time to move on and let the younger athletes come through.”

Samantha is back in action this weekend at the Budapest Cup.