Pub worker Fell sips from silver jug

Whenever George Bush turned up to watch his American athletes, they seemed to win. But Gordon Brown? He had to make to do with watching a silver show in the modern pentathlon yesterday.

The 25-year-old Heather Fell, won that medal here last night for Britain, behind Germany's Lena Schoneborn and ahead of Ukraine's Victoria Tereshuk in third. She might argue that with a little more state funding to tide her over during long injury spells, she might have made the top of the podium instead.

Not that she or her fellow Briton, Katy Livingston, who finished seventh – after 12 hours of shooting, fencing, swimming, show-jumping and cross country running – were complaining.

"To have Great Britain come second and seventh is just amazing," said Fell, who knew she had a tough assignment in the run to make up a large deficit on Schoneborn. "I was going for it in the run, but I realised it wasn't going to happen. In the end, keeping ahead of third was my biggest worry, so it was a relief to get second. It was great fun.

Livingston said: "I can't complain with seventh. My fence was quite average today, but the other four events went well and I had a 'pb' in the swim. It's been brilliant being here."

Fell's silver medal extends Britain's successful recent record in modern pentathlon, having won medals at all three Games since the women's event was introduced.

Two years ago, Fell was considering quitting the sport after having to work in a pub and hold down other part-time jobs as well in order to finance her sporting life. Her funding was cut by UK Sport because she was struggling with long-term shin injuries that inevitably affected her results.

She left Bath, where many elite athletes are based at the university's superb sports centre, and moved back home to Tavistock. Then she had a change of heart, deciding to carry on as a self-financed athlete.

"I'm glad I changed my mind," she said. "When my funding was cut I couldn't afford to live in Bath and I wasn't really welcome there anymore. I didn't feel abandoned by the system, but it did give me a kick up the backside.

"My parents said they would support me. I had three part-time jobs – teaching swimming, a bit of physio and working in a pub. I got over my injuries and I fitted the swimming, riding and running around working. The fencing and shooting dropped a bit.

"I got my foot back in the door, things started going right and I won a silver medal at the European Championships last summer to qualify for the Olympics." Her funding then resumed.

Yesterday, she was sixth after the shooting and moved up to second with her sword as the Prime Minister watched. Fell's parents, Nick and Doreen, were not there. They had overslept, through jet-lag.

"They pretended they were too nervous to watch, but I think they slept through their alarm," said their daughter.

Before the 3,000m run, Fell had maintained second place, but she knew she would have to cover the distance 19 seconds faster than the German leader. The run has a staggered start, arranged via points accumulated, so whoever crosses the line first wins.

Fell began the run with a 19-second deficit on Schoneborn, and halved it. It was not enough for gold, but it was good enough for a fourth modern pentathlon women's medal in three Games.

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