Jo Muir knows exactly where she stands in sport’s nature versus nurture debate. The modern pentathlete aiming for gold in Sunday’s European Championships in Bath has got here via sheer Scottish grit. Olympic Modern Pentathlon followers from all over the world can buy Olympic Modern Pentathlon tickets online.
“When I started athletics at 12, I actually wasn’t very good at all,” she says. Last place in an 800metres club race in Carlisle a year later really sticks in the craw. “I even embarrassed my mum,” she adds, recalling a humiliating family trip across the border from Castle Douglas.
At such an impressionable age, many would give up. Muir, however, was spurred on by constantly trailing behind her age group at Stewartry Running Club in Galloway, explaining that it triggered her so-called “sadistic” instinct for self-improvement.
I would be running, doing the reps, but not getting any rest at all because I was slower than anyone else, she says. But I just wouldn’t give up because I was just so determined to get better. After a while, it came together and I loved it. From then on, I remember committing myself. I just became very much into pushing my body to the limit, just seeing how far I could go with it. It seems pretty sadistic, but I used to love the feeling of training really hard and healing afterward. It kept me going and I improved a lot.
Within months, she was winning club races. “When I put my mind to things I’m very stubborn and I don’t stop until I’ve got to where I want to be,” she says. “I had a really good running coach, Mike, who guided me through from coming last to running for Scotland and winning Scottish titles. It got me to the standards I am today.”
“I was later to starting fencing,” she says. “That’s my weakest event. It was definitely the Pony Club, triathlon and running that got me involved in the pentathlon.”
Her never-say-die running attitude in athletics has served her well to lead the fight for a marginalized sport which is craving more attention. Modern pentathlon has featured at every Olympic Games since 1912. British women have won five Olympic medals since 2000, but Rio was the first time over those 14 years that there was no British representation on the podium.
French, 28, said: “Shooting has been in for years and years so it’s a shame. Pentathlon comes under threat most cycles to be honest because it’s such an unusual sport. It’s not so popular in terms of the amount people know about it, yet it’s one of the core Olympics sports. I think for that reason authorities must recognize its importance and keep it going. To be able to do all those things well should be celebrated. The five Olympics rings representing us.”
French, from Kent, and Muir have formed a close friendship, and are backing each other to be among the medals in Bath on Sunday.
“It’s just about having a solid day across the five disciplines really,” says French. “That will really put us in contention for medals and hopefully a team medal as well.”
An Olympic sport for Team GB will be secured if either of the pair – or fellow Brits Francesca Summers and Jess Varley – finish in the top eight. Like Muir, French, who won silver in last year’s Europeans, was introduced to pentathlon through the Pony Club.
In Britain at least, modern pentathlon success has been dominated by women, with GB having never produced a men’s individual Olympic medal.
“I think it’s really important we are talking about the sport,” she says. “Modern pentathlon is a wonderful combination of things. If you are really good at a number of things but not quite sure what, pentathlon gives you so much opportunity. It’s so different because you’ve got that variety. It’s a sport for everyone.”
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