BY JIM TAIT
A Whalsay teenager has made it through to the second stage of a programme designed to identify potential female British medallists for the 2012 London Olympics.
Victoria Duthie is among 25 girls invited back for stage two of the modern pentathlon section of the Girls4Gold programme, run jointly by UK Sport and the English Institute of Sport (EIS). Other sports targeted are bobsleigh, canoeing, rowing, sailing and windsurfing.
She is due to leave on the boat on 18th February, then travel to Bath where she will attend a day of training on Saturday 21st February.
Victoria, 18, who last year made the news as a member of the Anderson High School team which won the Scottish schools netball championship, is one of the best young all-round athletes in the isles. She has also represented Shetland at hockey, football and athletics, where she was a runner-up in the Scottish under-17 triple jump competition.
Having begun a degree course at Stirling University, she has now decided to leave and pursue a career in the police force. Victoria has already been interviewed and is currently waiting to hear how she fared.
“It was just too boring for me at uni,” she said. “Too many lectures. With the police I will be kept busy the whole time.”
In the meantime she must turn her hand to the various disciplines of her new chosen sport – fencing, pistol shooting, show jumping, running and swimming.
She heard about the programme last year through a friend of the family, and was among 3,000 people who applied for stage one. That number was whittled down to around 300 who were asked to attend five different days in Bath, Loughborough and Manchester, where Victoria went in September.
The 25 who made it through to stage two in each of the six chosen sports were identified by sports scientists and world class coaches, and they will now attend the sessions next month.
Victoria will have to develop basic fencing and pistol shooting movements, patterns and skills, be assessed for running 3,000 metres and swimming 200 metres freestyle, and complete and a question and answer session.
After phase two is completed one person will be selected in each of the six sports, and they will then embark on an intensive talent confirmation programme under the guidance of Olympic level coaches.
Victoria said: “The programme will focus on your ability to develop as a world class modern pentathlete. Should any athlete show exceptional promise they will be offered a scholarship on the GB modern pentathlete programme with the main aim of medalling in 2012 and beyond.”
The ancient pentathlon is believed to have been introduced by the Spartans as a method of training soldiers. It consisted of running, jumping, throwing the spear, throwing the discus and wrestling.
An admirer of the concept was the founder of the Modern Olympic Movement, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, who succeeded in getting the sport introduced at the Stockholm Games of 1912. It was de Coubertin’s belief that it would be the event, above all others, that tested man’s moral qualities as much as physical resources and skills, producing thereby the ideal, complete athlete.
The choice of the five diverse and unrelated sports that make up the modern pentathlon arose out of the romantic adventure of an officer whose horse is brought down in enemy territory. Having defended himself with his pistol and sword, he swims across a raging river and delivers the message on foot.
The young American soldier who finished fifth in the first Olympic modern pentathlon went on to be one of the most famous of all generals in World War II – George S Patton.
Today, both men and women complete all five events of the modern pentathlon in one day. A points system for each event is based on a standard performance earning 1,000 and the winner is the athlete who has accumulated the most points after the five events.
A major change will occur at the London Olympics in 2012, when the five disciplines will become four, with the merging of the running and shooting elements.
Great Britain has had notable recent success, with Heather Fell winning silver at last year’s Beijing Games and Stephanie Cook taking gold at Sydney in 2000.
Victoria said the chance of following in the footsteps of British female world and Olympic medallists, some of whom had only tackled a new sport at a relatively advanced age, was one she found very appealing. The likes of cyclist Rebecca Romero, skeleton bob racer Shelly Rudman and rowers Annie Vernon and Anna Bebington had proved it was not too late to take on a new challenge.
“I’m really looking forwards to it, and getting to try new sports I have never tried before. I’ve done a lot of things over the years but I find doing the same sports all the time a bit boring.”