Abbie's burning Olympic ambition

LIKE many young athletes her age, Abbie Thorrington has a burning ambition to compete at the Olympics; but unlike most, she has a genuine chance of fulfilling her dream.

By Carl Marston

LIKE many young athletes her age, Abbie Thorrington has a burning ambition to compete at the Olympics; but unlike most, she has a genuine chance of fulfilling her dream.

Ipswich-based triathlete Abbie is already leading the way in her age group for the three-disciplined sport of swimming, cycling and running.

The 19-year-old was crowned the British Under-20 champion earlier in the summer, and she had the distinction of representing her country at the European Triathlon Championships in France.

Such was the margin of her victory at the national championships, hosted by Llanelli in Wales, that the selectors decided to only pick Abbie for the European Under-20 squad. But she was still in some good company, mixing with experienced senior triathletes like Andrea Whitcombe, Tim Donn and Andrew Johns.

Abbie found the going tough in France, especially the brutal heat, but she still finished a respectable 16th overall in 1hr 06mins. She actually led the field after the swim section.

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“My intention is to gradually work up to the Olympic distance, and my main aim is to compete at the Olympics in Beijing in 2008,” insisted Abbie.

“I'll be 21 then, and hopefully will have got a lot of training under my belt. A stress fracture has hampered me this year.

“I missed three months of training from February, when I couldn't run because of the stress fracture. In fact, I only started up again a couple of weeks before the national championships.

“I suppose you could say that I was feeling fresh, but I'd have been a lot fitter with some more training. The selectors had said that they would not pick anyone who finished three per cent behind the winner, in terms of time, and the second runner was further behind, so I was the only British Under-20 who went to France.

“The weather conditions were completely opposite. There were gale-force winds and heavy rain in Wales, but the temperature was in the 30s in France. I prefer somewhere in between!” added Abbie.

The versatile Abbie is a regular competitor on the local scene, at swimming galas, cycle races and running events. She has just finished her first year as a student of sports science and exercise at Essex University, where she receives coaching from specialist triathlon coach, Dave Parry.

She also benefits from a lucrative sponsorship package from Colchester-based 53-12 Multisports, who have recently provided her with a new bike.

Abbie relished the chance to compete for her country, at a major championship. She hopes it is the first of many.

She explained: “There was a 750m swim, a 20km bike ride and then a 5km run. I was first out of the water by 20 seconds.

“After the bike I was in second place, but I was very dehydrated by then. I didn't drink enough water. I was feeling good for the first two of four laps on the bike, but I was then hanging on for dear life. I got to the stage where I was seeing stars!

“I struggled a little on the run. But it was still a great experience. I was four minutes slower than my time from the qualifier at Wales, but then conditions were not so hot, and the course was a lot faster and flatter. There was a 15 per cent climb on both the bike and run sections in France,” added Abbie.

Abbie started out as a swimmer, from the age of six, competing for Ipswich Swimming Club. She began cycling from the age of nine, and was soon taking part in a couple of local low-key triathlon events every year.

She has not looked back since. Although her long-term goal is to compete at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, her next aim is to qualify for the World Championships, which are to be staged in Lucerne, Switzerland, in September.

Abbie has to impress at the qualifying event in Salford, near Manchester, next month, which was the venue for the Commonwealth Games in 2002. She can hardly wait.