British pair book London 2012 places with gold and bronze at modern pentathlon World Championships
Saturday, 12 May 2012
May 12 - Mhairi Spence (pictured), who missed out on selection for the Beijing 2008 Olympics, booked her place at London 2012 with an extraordinary victory in the World Modern Pentathlon Championships in Rome, and her team-mate Samantha Murray, who has rocketed up the world rankings this year, laid claim to the second individual place open to Britain's women by taking bronze.
Britain's Performance Director Jan Bartu, said the result was "beyond his wildest dreams".
But it also effectively ended the dreams of the 2008 Olympic silver medallist, Heather Fell, and Freyja Prentice, who earned an Olympic qualification slot with third place at the European Championships last year, from claiming an individual place at the Games this year.
Britain can only send two female pentathletes to the Games - medals for Spence and Murray ended the Olympic hopes of Beijing silver medallist Fell, who finished 15th, and Prentice, who came 16th.
Spence, 26, stunned France's Amelie Caze as she sprinted to victory in Rome.
Team-mate Murray came third to earn her own spot in GB's Olympic team.
"I always knew in my heart I was good enough to win," said Spence (pictured).
"But it's easy to say.
"It's easy to believe.
"It's easy to dream it.
"Actually, it's really, really hard.
"I didn't make it last time [to Beijing 2008].
"Since then I've grown up a lot, matured, worked hard and thrown myself into my sport.
"I wanted this so, so badly.
"I've wanted to go to the Olympic Games since I can remember.
"Everyone says it's their childhood dream, but it really was mine."
Spence overhauled Caze, who was bidding for a record-equalling fourth world title and had built a seemingly impregnable 37-second lead heading into the day's final event, the combined run-shoot.
But the Scot somehow caught her up and Murray moved up a place into third.
"Caze had such a massive advantage over Mhairi and Samantha," said Bartu.
"I thought we might get one medal if everything went right.
"Mhairi's story is amazing: what she's done over the last 18 months, the transformation of her as a person and an athlete.
"Samantha is another.
"She was kicked out of our development programme because she couldn't cope with the demands.
"She came back, she made her way up and now she's a world bronze medallist.
"It defies all theories and statistics."
Both athletes collapsed in laughter and tears having crossed the finish line.
"The result earns the pair a substantial funding increase alongside participation in their home Olympics.
"I'm just so proud and pleased with my achievements today," said Murray, 22.
"I feel like I've done myself justice and followed my heart, and I've come through.
"The things that I've overcome to get here," she added, breaking down in tears.
"It's a life's ambition made real."
Spence, asked if she is now the Olympic favourite, said: "I doubt that very much.
"I have a lot of work to do before London and I can't wait to start doing it."
While they celebrated, their achievements meant the door to London 2012 closed for Fell and Prentice.
Had nobody British won medals here, the team would have been decided by selection committee in June.
Fell has recovered from a slump after winning silver at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and is known for performing on the big occasions, but fenced poorly and could not recover.
Her performance, combined with that of Spence and Murray, was enough to earn Great Britain team gold though, ahead of Hungary and China.
Prentice had an impressive 2011 but has struggled to overcome injury and illness this year.
She and emerging men's star Jamie Cooke were the only Britons to reach the London 2012 qualifying standard last year, but poor performances early in 2012 wiped out any advantage they had in the battle for Olympic selection.
British duo Cooke and Nick Woodbridge compete in Sunday's men's final, but Sam Weale finished 13th in his semi-final yesterday, missing the final by an agonising margin as the top 12 progressed.
Bartu admitted Weale's failure to make the final "does not help" his chances of reaching the Olympics, where only two British men can compete.
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