POSTED: Wednesday August 1st 2012

Modern Pentathlon: Impossible is Nothing to World Champion Spence

Spence was in tears after winning World Championship gold
Spence was in tears after winning World Championship gold

Spence is now one of the favorites in London
Spence is now one of the favorites in London

Spence is a proud member of Team GB
Spence is a proud member of Team GB

As Mhairi Spence started the last kilometer of her final event in the 2012 modern pentathlon World Championships, GB’s performance director Jan Bartu leaned forward and said quietly to her as she ran past him, “impossible is nothing”.

“I was feeling tired and that pushed me on,” said 26-year-old Spence from Inverness, nicknamed “Scottish Power” by Bartu, who sprinted to her first World title in the five-event discipline in Rome and is now counting the days to London 2012.

“It’s cheesy but it worked,” added Spence, speaking from a high-altitude training camp in the Pyrenees - her feet still yet to touch the ground since overhauling the 37-second lead of France’s three-times World Champion Amelie Caze in that final run in Rome at the end of May.

“A coach told me once, not so long ago, when I was very tired and very emotional on a treadmill: ‘you can always have more in you’.

“It applies to everyone in all walks of life, you can do more than you think. And so when I heard Jan say those words…”

The University of Bath education and sports development graduate, who took up the pentathlon after watching Stephanie Cook win gold at the Sydney Olympics in 2000, collapsed on the floor after the finish in tears, overcome with emotion having sealed her place at the London 2012 Olympic Games.

Perhaps more importantly she had completed what Bartu later called “a transformation” which began with some home truths 18 months ago.

“I sat down with my coaches and made quite a few changes to my training programme and nutrition programme,” said Spence, whose career high at that point was a bronze medal at the third world cup of 2010 in Kent.

She had achieved the qualifying standard for the Beijing Olympics in 2008 but missed out to Katy Livingston and Heather Fell (who went on to win Olympic silver) for the two Team GB places.

“I was giving 70-80% of my time to modern pentathlon and I needed to give 110%, I needed to include all my rest time, my recovery, my social life,” revealed the frank and honest athlete, part of a fiercely competitive, Lottery-funded squad based at the University of Bath.

“They told me everything had to revolve around pentathlon. 18 months ago I sat down and said, ‘I will do this’. I didn’t know if it would work, but I made the decision to commit myself fully to it.”

A silver followed at the first world cup of 2011 in Palm Springs, California, where she held off a late challenge from Germany’s Olympic gold medallist Lena Schoneborn to finish behind Amelie Caze.

In the world cup final in Greenwich Park, which doubled as the London 2012 test event, Spence came within touching distance of the podium, finishing fifth.

And come 2012, spurred on by the need to qualify for the Games ahead of her GB team-mates, Spence’s run in Rome saw her catch Caze and clinch her first gold medal.

“Now maybe there is a bit of acceptance that I’m good enough,” she said following her selection for the London Olympics alongside Samantha Murray, Sam Weale and Nick Woodbridge - with Beijing silver medallist Heather Fell missing out this time round.

In modern pentathlon athletes face a gruelling day, first fencing a number of duels before racing 200m in the swimming pool then completing a show-jumping course on an unfamiliar horse.

Their total scores are then converted into a time handicap and the day culminates in a combined event, a 3km run with three bouts of laser-pistol shooting where they must hit a target five times.

The first across the finish wins, a simple end to a multi-disciplined contest designed by the founder of the modern Games, Pierre de Coubertin, believing its tests would produce ‘the ideal, complete athlete’.

Spence’s nickname among the GB team, “Fencey Spencey”, gives away her primary talent but the 5ft 6in dynamo has now shown she can stitch all five events together in winning fashion.

“We all want to perform in front of the home crowd and winning a World Championships perhaps means I’ve put myself in a position to be considered as a threat,” said Spence, now ranked third in the world.

Although she will arrive at London 2012 as World Champion, it doesn’t automatically make her favourite for Olympic gold. With five-events and 36 competitors, pentathlon is fiendishly hard to dominate.

“There have been 18 medals won this year by 14 different athletes,” pointed out Spence, “so anyone can step up.”

“Every day I train with renewed motivation. Every day I get up with a smile on my face about the possibility of producing that performance and making sure that at the end of the day I have done my best.”

Her mother is a kilt-maker and Spence has already “lobbied” Team GB’s Chef de Mission to develop a Team GB tartan, such is her excitement for the Games.

“I can’t wait for all of it,” she said, every word brimming with enthusiasm. “It won’t be until August 13 until I think reality will hit. It’s best just to keep my eye on what’s next. We don’t have time to relax and think about it. “

Another of Spence’s favourite sayings is from the Invictus poem by William Henley: ‘I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul’.

Finish on the podium in Greenwich and they might just make that special tartan she’s after to dress the West Highland Terrier puppy she’s promised herself as a reward for a medal in London.

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Keywords · Modern Pentathlon · London 2012 · Pentathlon · Pentathlete · Olympics · Olympic Games · London · UIPM · IOC · Coubertin · Run · Shoot · Swim · Ride · Fence · Great Britain · gold · champion · Mhairi Spence · Spence · World Champion · British · Woodbridge

Name: Matt Pound
Organization: Union Internationale De Pentathlon Moderne - UIPM
Phone: +377 9777 8555

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