Big Interview: Ribble Valley modern pentathlete Samantha Murray

Former modern pentathlon world champion and Olympic silver medal winner Samantha Murray tells CHRIS BODEN what the sport needs to succeed in the North West

Saturday, 19th January 2019, 10:00 am
One of Samantha's Murray's biggest strengths was her swimming ability
One of Samantha's Murray's biggest strengths was her swimming ability

Former world champion Samantha Murray may have retired from modern pentathlon.

But she retains an interest in the future of the sport and all five disciplines – fencing, swimming, riding, and the run and shoot.

The 29-year-old retired in November, after a career which saw her win silver at London 2012, while winning bronze and gold at the World Championships.

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2014 Modern Pentathlon World Championship gold medal winner Samantha Murray

And the Clitheroe athlete would love to see investment in facilities in the North West, to help inspire the next generation.

Murray, in particular, feels the area needs a state-of-the-art swimming pool, with the nearest 50m pools being the Manchester Aquatics Centre – built for the 2002 Commonwealth Games – and Stockport’s Grand Central Pools.

She started swimming with Clitheroe Dolphins, who currently split sessions between Ribblesdale and Stonyhurst Pool, before joining Burnley Bobcats at the Thompson Centre, which has since been knocked down and replaced by the St Peter’s Centre. Murray said: “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.

“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, 33.3metres, so you got your metres 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.”

Murray’s move towards modern pentathlon was a natural one.

On top of her talent for swimming, she loved to run – furthering her experience right across Lancashire – and spent much of her youth at her grandparents’ stables.

She said: “My grandparents retired. My grandad was a sheet metal worker at BAE, and they got a farm with stables in Longton.

“That’s where I was at the weekends, It was amazing looking after the ponies, being outside. Most girls are pony-mad, so it was amazing and I learned to ride there.

“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.”

And the exploits of British Olympians really lit the fire in her.

She added: “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 or 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 £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 thrived 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.”