The Big Interview: Samantha Murray on her decision to retire from athletics

Clitheroe athlete talks to Chris Boden as she bows out after a glittering career which saw her win the 2014 modern pentathlon world title, and a silver medal at the London OlympicsIt says much about Samantha Murray's achievements that she has to pause to think about what was her finest hour.

By The Newsroom
Friday, 16th November 2018, 4:00 pm
Clitheroe athlete Samantha Murray
Clitheroe athlete Samantha Murray

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 medallist”, in that order, but while she admits being world champion is “the best thing you can do” in her sport, she feels she cannot 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.

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Hailing from the Ribble Valley, Murray 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,” said Murray.

“I was always going after London 2012 – one hundred per cent – 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 Murray 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,” she said.

“I think, when you’ve achieved something in an Olympic sport, you are a medallist 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 – cannot be topped. She added: “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.

“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 medallist of that Olympic Games.

“I was even 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,” said Murray.

“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,” she said.

“So I exercise daily, also for my mental health.

“I’ll be a qualified PT instructor 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 in Salford, and I’d love to work for the Beeb.

“Its always been my aspiration to pursue a career in sports broadcasting and I’m considering a National Council for the Training of Journalists’ course with the Press Association 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.”