This interview first appeared just after the London Olympics. Rio coming very soon, thought a revisit might be in order!
Not so long ago Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony extravaganza for London 2012 proved all the doubters wrong, including myself, and Team GB excelled. Even though the Olympics has finished, the hard work and training by the athletes and their support staff continues. Samantha Murray, Modern Pentathlete and member of Team Bath, fought hard and earned a Silver Medal. Just to compete in the Olympics is an astonishing achievement, but to take a place amongst the medal winners is something else entirely. Samantha speaks to us, reflecting on her achievements, but looks forward to the future.
Has what you achieved actually sunk in yet?
It’s funny you ask this question because the day after my competition at the Olympics I had media calls; one of the first questions that I was asked by a journalist was: “Has it sunk in yet?” My response was immediate-” yes, absolutely, I knew I’d nail it and get on the podium.”
The reality was that I was still in a weird limbo in my mind – floating, dreaming, dazed, exhausted and high on coffee and Redbull. It took so long for me to come round and surface from my “game head” and competition plan that it took me about a week to start feeling human again. I had wrapped myself up in such a bubble that much of what happened after my race, still in my mind, feels like an unforgettable dream. Today I believe what I achieved but I’m focused on what’s next. That’s the funny thing about being an athlete- if you dwell too much in glory that’s past, you’re risking not performing at your next big thing. I can look back on and revel in what I have achieved once my career is over.
It was an incredible performance by all of the athletes of Team GB, what factors do you think contributed to that level of success?
For me it was a few things: one, all sports were well funded and supported leading up to 2012- this helped coaching, equipment, training camps, sport science resources, to name a few. The better funded, the more likely you will have more medals at the other end. Two, when a one-shot opportunity is placed in front of a nation- those who are ready to fight for something rather incredible, will make the most of it, and not give in. The final thing is probably the “Olympic fever” that took over our country. For me, running through the stadium, with a crowd of 24,000 who were mostly backing me, made such a difference. How could the concept of backing down or giving up the fight ever cross your mind when people are cheering you to win?
You said that you had made a couple of mistakes at the start of your Olympics, but did that almost in itself crystalise things for you when you were competing? And as a result did you push yourself even harder?
I make mistakes at every competition; it’s these errors that drive me to continue and show me that I can improve. Also under pressure, when you’re pretty young at your first Olympics (22), it would be silly to think that you can pull out a perfect performance (not that that really exists in Modern Pentathlon). To be honest, I expected to have bad patch in the fence where I lost a number of hits in a row- this is normal for me! The other mistakes I made throughout the day were normal and just conveyed my lack of experience and the pressure that I was under- or my humanity! We all make mistakes, it’s how you move on from them that makes you special.
Just wondering which if any out of the five disciplines is maybe your least favourite, and if tend to overcompensate by training harder in it?
Generally everything is pretty balanced in training. If I did too much of one sport then I would risk injury or neglecting the others. So its all about a evenly weighted approach. Of course, at different times of the year I will focus on specific areas, for example if we go on a fencing training camp then this will be the priority.
Saw that your village was flooded a couple of months back, and possibly still is. Does the weather affect your training either in practical terms or just mentally? If so, how do you overcome that?
British weather. Mostly it just drains my smile as the grey, drizzle, rain and coldness is just so horrible. But this is where I live for now so I wrap up very warm, always wear slippers at home and drink about 8 cups of tea per day!
You’re studying French and Politics, how hard is it to balance your training with your studying? And, how are the lectures going?
Yes it is very hard. In fact until this year I haven’t focused on my degree at all. I’ve always rushed things and done some work last minute. Since 2008 I have been abroad training and competing or at home doing much of the same, plus when your not training you’re usually too tired to even consider reading about politics! This is why I’m working to get a 2.1 at the moment and not a 1st! It’s a shame but it is just a sacrifice that I made. Mostly I just think about when I have a gap or free time and dedicate that to revision, essay writing or general study. Its my final year now, so one last push and it’ll all be over come June.
A couple of athletes have moved into acting as a career (Jason Statham as an example), just wondering if this is something that you’ve perhaps considered? Or perhaps music (piano!).
Not the piano! But its funny you ask about acting – I would love to be an actress – I’d love a job on Coronation Street.
Has the publicity afterwards perhaps caught you by surprise? Have there been moments where you’ve had to perhaps pinch yourself to make sure it’s real?
No not really! I don’t feel as though I’ve had lots of publicity- there were so many high profile athletes going into London that on the other side they or other big names seem to dominate sport headlines.
You seem to have something of a sweet tooth (“Keep Calm and Eat Cupcakes”), do you have to really control that in preparation for competitions, or are you one of the fortunate few that actually benefit from the sugar kick?
Bit of both really. Mostly I try to eat all of the good stuff: my greens, good sources of protein and quality carbs such as rice, pasta, quinoa etc, because I know that it’s great for my body to recover and adapt from all the exercise that I do. However, how boring would life be if you only ate the super healthy stuff? As long as you do the exercise, I think it’s important to enjoy food and treat yourself.
What do you do in your spare time (if such a thing exists) to relax?
Very normal spare time things- I watch TV (maybe too much), read, go to the cinema, meals and drinks with friends and yoga. I live in a lovely city, Bath, so I like to walk around the center do some shopping and enjoy a coffee and a cake. Sometimes I’ll plan more exciting stuff but that generally depends on how I’m feeling after a weeks training.
And finally, what have you got planned for 2013?
Finish my degree; win some more medals and hopefully go travelling / holiday time in Bali and other countries after the World Championships that are in Chinese Taipei.
A huge thank you to Team Bath and Samantha for this interview, and we wish Samantha all the best in the World Championships!