World champion and Olympic medalist Samantha looks back on her achievements - and what lies in store
It says much about Samantha Murray's achievements that she has to pause to think about what was her finest hour.
Was it winning silver - Team GB’s final medal of 65 across a glorious Olympic summer in 2012 - or her subsequent World Modern Pentathlon Championship title two years later in Warsaw?
Her website calls her “World champion and Olympic medalist”, in that order, but while she admits being World champion is “the best thing you can do” in her sport, she feels she can’t top “the proudest day” of her life, at Greenwich Park.
The 29-year-old reminisced with me as she calls time on her career, and looks ahead to what is next.
Hailing from the Ribble Valley, Samantha honed her skills across Lancashire.
Preston-born, she grew up in Clitheroe, attending Brookside Primary School in Clitheroe, Bowland High School in Grindleton and Clitheroe Royal Grammar School to sit her A Levels.
She swam for Clitheroe Dolphins and Burnley Bobcats, ran for Burnley Athletics Club and Blackburn Harriers, before finding her path into the sport which would take her across the globe, with great success, with the Ribble Valley Modern Pentathlon Club.
Now based in Bath, where she lives with fiancé Kieran Daya after graduating with a degree in Politics from The University of Bath, and being based at Pentathlon GB’s national training centre in the city, she explained why now is the time to bring the curtain down on a glittering chapter of her life: “My sport is about the Olympics, it’s about focusing on that four-year cycle.
“I was always going after London 2012, 100%, and then because I did so well, off the back of that, going towards Rio 2016 made sense.
“And I still absolutely enjoyed it and woke up every day and the only thing I wanted to do was train as an athlete.
“After Rio, coming away from that, finishing eighth, I felt as though I had enjoyed that lifestyle as much as I could, and now I was carrying on to see it through.
“My coach retired, and I found myself getting a bit older. I’m 29 now, and I think what used to make me really excited and feel I was the luckiest person ever, now I feel a little bit like it’s a bit of a slog sometimes.
“Not a slog maybe, but I don’t feel the same fire, the same passion that I used to.
“I still want to win, I’d still take a gold medal, don’t get me wrong, but in sport it’s about going through the processes every day, and you have to really, really want it.
“You have to live it day in, day out, and it comes first.
“I think I’ve just made the decision now to stop competing and stop that lifestyle, and embrace other parts of who I am, not just my sport.
“There are other things as well, and going into my thirties, I think that’s the best decision I can make for myself.
“You just think, an athlete’s life was never going to last forever, so let’s be savvy about it and plan now.
“I’m walking away with a real smile and feel quite humble about it.
“I’ve come in and like so many athletes, I’m walking away with something, a few achievements I’m really proud of.”
“A few achievements” is Samantha being modest. How many people get to call themselves the best on the planet at what they do, at any given time?
Her performance in Poland at the 2014 World Championships came two years after her silver in London, but which achievement means more?: “In terms of the sport, the World Championships title is the best thing you can do, the World Champs entries aren’t capped to two per nation, so you have all the strong athletes from around the world, and there’s a qualification process to get into the final, whereas the Olympic Games is all on the day.
“I think, when you’ve achieved something in an Olympic sport, you are a medalist or have a title, to go back and do it again, or do better, is a real achievement.
“I kind of carried that momentum forward for a few years, and that made me, at the time, one of the biggest threats in modern pentathlon.
“It was a really good time for me, at that moment, I was at the top, and that was great, to have those two medals, and the others I won, world bronze in 2012, World Cup medals, team medals, national titles, but the World Championship title is something I’m really proud of.
“If I’m honest, I worked unbelievably hard for it, there was nothing else in my life, only training, it was so much focus, so solitary as well.
“Shutters down and focus, and that’s what I did, and it was a pleasure to do it as well.”
But the whole atmosphere and feel-good factor of London 2012 - and the fact she won silver in front of her family and an army of friends - can’t be topped: “It’s funny, I was looking back at pictures of 2012, and you think ‘wow, what an amazing day’.
“I didn’t know that day was coming, I wanted it to, but I didn’t know how great it would be.
“I remember competing and coming back to Bath a few days later, and I was back running on the canal, and people celebrate that one day when they see what you’re doing, but it was about the hard work put in over days, weeks, months, years, before, when you’re focusing on what you want to achieve. That’s the part that people should see, for that moment to happen.
“You see the iceberg, you don’t see what’s underneath.
“But that day was amazing, the proudest day of my life.
“I felt so proud to be British, my family made it to watch me, which was great, all my friends, the meets are often all abroad, so they don’t get to see you, so for it to be in London...and to be a part of it all was incredible.
“And I’ll always be the last British medalist of that Olympic Games!
“I was a question on Pointless, the last British medal winner of 2012.”
She has also been a contestant on the BBC quiz show Pointless, but her sporting career has been anything but.
However, she knows it is time to move on in her life: “The sport itself has changed.
“They changed the points in the swimming which is another reason for me to move away. It used to be, for every second you were faster than the optimum time, you’d get four points, four seconds, but now they’ve dropped it to two, so if I’m 10 seconds quicker, I only get a 20 second margin, when it used to be 40.
“That has been a real boost for me, but they changed it, and it seems to be all political. All the counties who are weaker swimmers voted to change it.
“It’s ridiculous, and I had a natural feeling to move on.”
So what is next for this driven individual, aside from a wedding to plan for next year?: “I’m doing a PT course, and I can’t not exercise, I’m so conscious, it’s all about being healthy and looking after your body, but if I indulge on something I feel I have to earn it.
“So I exercise daily, also for my mental health.
“I’ll be a qualified PT before Christmas, and that’s something I’d like to get into, because I just want to explore all avenues and develop myself.
“I do enjoy the gym, I like fitness.
“I like to get dropped off on the canal by my fiancé Kieran and get him to pick me up at a pub 10 miles down the canal in Bath, so he has a coffee and waits for me.
“In the new year I’ll be exploring different opportunities and options, and see where life takes me.
“Media City is here in Salford, and I’d love to work for the Beeb...
“It's always been my aspiration to pursue a career in sports broadcasting and I’m considering an NCTJ course with PA in London.
“I admire people like Gabby Logan, I was interviewed by Claire Balding at the Olympics and thought she was fantastic, but I’ve always enjoyed chatting to people, asking questions, I’m very curious, and the experiences I’ve had as an athlete, filming, I’ve always enjoyed.
“Through my achievements I’ve done a lot of public speaking, school talks, corporate business talks, women’s networking events, and I really enjoy it.
“I just think I couldn’t work in a quiet environment, I’d like to be in quite an expressive environment.
“When I was nervous I’d tell myself to go out and express myself, show what I was about.
“And it’s been nice being a senior athlete and mentoring some of the girls. I’ve loved it, and I would like to coach, but I’d prefer to be a mentor.
“For now, I’ll mentor my brother, whether he likes it or not. He’s just started training at the national training centre, he went to the junior worlds this year."
Her achievements show what is possible with the right attitude and commitment.
But how did she end up in modern pentathlon in the first place?: “Swimming was something I always excelled at, my body shape lends itself to swimming, and I was always really good at the ‘take your blocks, go’ element.
“I was very aggressive, competitive - swimming and running I felt I could really get hold of and get stuck in.
“My grandma has a farm in Longton. My grandad was a sheet metal worker at BAE, they retired, and they got a farm with stables.
“That’s where I was at the weekends, I was amazing looking after the ponies, being outside.
“Most girls are pony-mad, so it was amazing and I learned to ride there.
“I went to Clitheroe Dolphins swimming club at the age of six, and when I wanted to step it up and train more at about 13, I went to Burnley Bobcats, and that was amazing.
“It was the nearest pool where I could swim before school, at the Thompson Centre, then go to school. It was a really good pool, 33.3 metres, so you got your metre in easily, less going up and down.
“You want a 50m pool, but they are so expensive. That part of the world needs the investment for that.
“St Peters is 25m, the nearest 50m pool is Manchester, for the Commonwealth Games.
“The running came through school, I was in the running club, and had a good PE teacher who said I should join a running club, so I went to the track in Burnley at Barden, and there was a real sense of belonging there, a real family. At the meets they would do a barbecue, set up the tents, and everyone was really friendly and welcoming.
“Eventually I started running at Blackburn Harriers, where I’m still a member.
“When I was at high school, my parents were so supportive, a lot of driving, before and after school, weekends, they embraced it with me.
“Once I’d seen the 2004 Olympics and seen the Modern Pentathlon on TV, in Athens, Georgina Harlow ran to a bronze medal, and I thought ‘I can do this’.
“I was 13/14 and comparing my times to them, and you think ‘I’m not far off’, it’s a mindset, and that’s where I got my rational from it.
“I was really inspired.
“I watched it and I knew that was what I was going after.
“It really spurred me on to up my training and to take it all quite seriously.
“I’d found the sport a few years before, I saw a poster of a lady crossing the finish line with her fist in the air, and asked a volunteer who it was, and it was Dr Steph Cook, who won gold in Sydney, and went to university and became a doctor, and I remember thinking ‘wow!’
“I always wanted to ride horses, we admired the Whittakers, but knew you needed a really good sponsor or huge financial backing, so knew I’d never be a professional rider.
“But I loved riding, and knew I was good at swimming and running, so discovering the pentathlon, felt like it was meant to be, the answer to what I enjoyed.
“Another piece of the puzzle was that in Clitheroe, there as a club for this niche Olympic sport, Ribble Valley Modern Pentathlon Club, a parent whose daughters had got into it, Martin Highton, and he was searching for more kids for the club to make up teams.
“His time and effort meant the NGB would lend pistols, fencing kit, so you’d pay your Â£2 subs and could use a pistol and fence, which makes it accessible for real people.
“That’s where it all started, then there were regional competitions, biathlons, triathlons, and then you qualified for nationals, and I loved it, I thrives on it.
“Pentathlon GB happened quite quickly, around 13/14, it all came together for me. I’d spent years in the saddle so had a wealth of experience. A lot come in through swimming or running and they fast track them to ride, and it’s often their weak point, but I was a really steady jockey and had a flair for swimming and running."
Having a natural ability is one thing, but having the desire and will to be the best, is another.
Samantha made the sacrifices top athletes have to make, and she explained: “I really changed my approach, my diet, and I was in the shape of my life, and embraced all sides of being an athlete, monitoring my sleep, eating the right fruit and veg, all the grains, all the goodness...
“That massively changed from growing up as a kid in Lancashire, pie and peas, bangers and mash, I was a Lancashire girl through and through.
“I had normal home cooking and ate well, and you burn that off when you exercise, but I had a grain nutritionist who would say, ‘if you swapped this for some bulgur wheat, you’ll find you won’t get so hungry when it comes to your next meal time’.
“The importance of drinking loads of water, you can never eat too many greens, cut out processed food, eating really clean.
“But I was in the shape of my life."