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Angela Darby - Olympic Pentathlete and Architecture Student

Angela Darby
'The fact that every event is so different and challenging in its own way. I had to take up shooting, fencing and running, and I learnt so much about myself in each of them.'

Angela is an architecture student who also happens to be travelling to the Beijing Olympics to compete in the Modern Pentathlon event.





FYI Pentathlon is a sporting contest involving five elements: swimming, running, shooting, fencing and horse riding.

You only started pentathlon when you were 17? What were you doing before that?

I was horse riding because we have a property down in regional Victoria. I had also been swimming 10 to 12 sessions a week since Year 9. I had national times in backstroke, but never anything more than just making up the numbers.

How did you cross over into pentathlon?

One of the guys I swam with was a national champion in pentathlon and he encouraged me to combine the two sports. When I started uni, I lost a bit of direction because the swimming wasn't really going anywhere, so I took him up on it and he gave me all the right contacts to get started.

Had you always wanted to be involved with a sport at an elite level?

I think I always inadvertently just ended up training more, and getting more and more involved.

You are also studying architecture?

Yes. I have taken this semester off, because I don't want to allow any reason that something could go wrong in Beijing. Last semester I was studying part time and before that I was studying full time at Melbourne University.

How much do you train and who supports you?

I train 35-plus hours a week. In terms of support, the Victorian Institute of Sport has just sent me a contract for a scholarship. My region had a fundraiser and Melbourne University has helped me out with grants. A sponsorship with NAB should also be happening soon. This is an Olympic year, though, so there are a lot more sponsorship opportunities than usual.

So pentathlon isn't a professional sport?

Not in Australia. Overseas it is – if you are on the English national team you get £100 000 a year. There has been a bit more money coming in this year, but before that I had to work on the weekends when I wasn't training as much.

What is the lead-up to the games like?

It's good because I can just train, which is what I love. We did all the travelling and pre-Olympic competitions in the first part of the year. This is the exciting time and it is really busy.

How is the Olympic competition structured?

It's done in a day, which is a bit of fun. The events are spread out with an hour off in between each of them. It starts off at about 8.30 am with the shooting, which is a 20-shot match with an air pistol over a 10 metre range. Then there's the fencing, which is a one-hit competition with each of the other 35 competitors. Then you swim 200 metres freestyle in the pool, and complete a 14-obstacle course on a randomly allocated horse. The final event, a 3 kilometre cross-country run, is staggered depending on your points in the other four events. Four pentathlon points get you one running second. Whoever crosses the line first wins the pentathlon.

What do you like about the sport? 

The fact that every event is so different and challenging in its own way. I had to take up shooting, fencing and running, and I learnt so much about myself in each of them. I love that when something is going wrong, other things will be going right.

Would the top pentathletes in some countries have the status of our top swimmers?

Definitely. For example, the women pentathletes on the Hungarian national team are also their lotto girls and are on the TV all the time. In Australia, a lot of people don't even know what pentathlon is.

What was the reaction of people when you told them you were going to the Olympics?

It's not something I throw in people's faces. It's something I do for me, not for other people. In fact, my parents were surprised each step of the way. When I told them I had actually qualified, they were blown away and so happy. They knew I was working towards this, but there was no pressure on me to do it.

What are your plans for when you get back from Beijing?

Go home for at least two weeks and just relax. I've missed a lot of uni so I really need to get back into that. I'll do some work experience and summer semesters. I will keep training but not quite so intensely, and then I'll get back into it more next year.

Do you have any advice for someone trying to balance a semi-professional sports career with other study or work?

I think the main thing is time management. Architecture has 14 contact hours, but then about six hours of drawing each night. Sleep does suffer and I have to catch up on the weekend. I have to plan where I am going to be in a day down to every half hour. My advice is to enjoy what you do and then you won't realise how much work you are doing.

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