Samantha Murray – Great Britain’s most recent summer Olympic medallist – adopts an alter ego for competition.
The Preston-born 26-year-old, who hails from Clitheroe, won modern pentathlon silver on the final day of London 2012, taking the hosts’ 65th medal of the Games.
Murray, the 2014 world champion who was last week selected for Rio, becomes Olive – a nickname coined by women’s head coach Istvan Nemeth as Murray reminds him of Olive Oyl from Popeye.
She said: “It started before London. I noticed I had a real shift in my attitude, which was more of a choice.
“I’d approach competitions and leave out parts of my character. I’d move it to one side and embrace parts of my personality which I knew were good for me in competition.
“My coach started to notice this. We were talking one day about cartoon characters and he said I really reminded him of Olive from Popeye. I’ve got dark hair and usually quite pale skin.
“Olive just emerged and I just liked the notion of stepping into Olive’s shoes when I compete.
“Since then I’ve been known as Olive. He calls me that. When I do well he’s like, ‘good Olive!’
“When I get home, close my front door, I’m Samantha.
“I can chill out, see my friends, have a glass of wine, relax, enjoy myself, I really enjoy languages – I’ve learnt Italian since graduating from uni.
“And when I step into my office, which is the training centre, and when I compete, especially, I really try to embrace Olive and become that person. That’s how I’ve coped.”
The French and politics graduate from Bath University – where Britain’s modern pentathletes are based – believes the transformation into Olive, who is known to be uncompromising and demanding in the cartoons, can be the difference between success and near-misses.
Murray added: “When it’s gone wrong, I’ve kind of blamed it on me letting Samantha – the human with the insecurities, the doubts, the fears – take over.
“When I’ve had a winning day it’s because Olive’s been present throughout the day.
“It’s really exhausting being an elite athlete and people saying ‘oh, so are you going to win gold in Rio?’ all the time. It is exhausting.
“I’ve been able to switch off and end up being Sam. When it’s the moment to step in, it’s like ‘Olive’s here’. I gradually feel a progression into being her as I prepare for big competitions like a world champs.
“I know I don’t lack focus, I don’t take any prisoners, I don’t get involved with bitchiness in the team, I shut myself down from social media a little bit and make choices about my nutrition and what I do at weekends.
“I just become the character I am in competition, a character that I know I need to be to win.
“I don’t think Olive would be too chatty with anyone. Game face. You wouldn’t want to mess with her.”