Winning a world title is a dream come true for any athlete but for 18-year-old Francesca Summers it happened not once but twice in May in one of the most diverse of all Olympic sports.
The modern pentathlete from Dorking in Surrey was competing for Great Britain at back-to-back modern pentathlon world championships, the first in Hungary at the under-19 youth level and the next just a week later in Poland at the 19-to-21 junior event. It was a whirlwind experience, as Francesca explains.
“It hasn’t really sunk in yet,” she says. “One weekend you are standing on the podium taking gold at a world championships and then the next moment you’re back in training for the next competition as if nothing ever happened.”
Her incredible run of form began in torrential rain in Budapest which led to the event being postponed for a day, but she stuck to it with teammates Eilidh Prise and Kerenza Bryson to pull off the narrowest of victories in the women’s team competition.
“We won the gold by one point,” she explains, “which in modern pentathlon is equivalent to one second.”
“So after two days of competition, over four different events – fencing, swimming, shooting and running – combining the scores of all three of us in the team, we won it by a single point. But all sports people will recognise: a win is a win!”
As the senior member of that team Francesca led Great Britain not only to the team gold that day but also won herself an individual bronze medal with a score that met the qualification standard for the Youth Olympic Games in China this summer.
Asked what she might do to take that bronze up to a silver or gold, she says, “With multi-discipline events the key is to stay consistent over all the elements. I did well but perhaps not in the order of events I would have predicted. So perhaps more hard work is needed even on what I consider my favourite events.
“In modern pentathlon you are only as good as your weakest link,” she adds. Which in her case is obviously pretty good!
From Hungary it was on to Drzonków in Poland for the junior world championships which took place the following weekend. Here Francesca was the youngest member of the British team, competing alongside the more experienced Jo Muir and Alice Fitton, both 20. But she showed no sign of it, or of any fatigue from the previous weekend’s competition, by leading the way for GB once again. Francesca surprised them all to finish in fourth place, ahead of Jo in eighth and Alice in 26th, and was just 13 seconds away from another individual bronze medal.
Why are the British women so strong right now?
“There is a history to women’s success in modern pentathlon,” Francesca explains. “From the first time the [women’s] sport was allowed in the Olympics back in 2000, Dr Stephy Cook won a gold and
Kate Allenby won a bronze and from then on, GB women have medalled at every Olympics.
“Georgina Harland won bronze in Athens in 2004, Heather Fell won silver in Beijing in 2008 and Samantha Murray won silver at London 2012. So British women really do excel at this event. There is strength in depth and the support structure we have in place through Pentathlon GB is excellent. Oh, and a lot of hard work!” She adds.
In addition to all that hard work, Francesca credits her success to the financial support she has received from SportsAid over the past four years.
“Seriously for my part I am not sure I would be in this sport if the funding I get was not available. It does make a difference and a real difference at that.”
To help a rising star like Francesca to achieve his or her ambitions, call SportsAid on 020 7273 1975 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. To find out more about Francesca’s career and achievements, search for her athlete profile on SportsAid’s website (www.sportsaid.org.uk).