WHEN Sam Murray saw a poster of Steph Cook, arm raised in triumph, winning modern pentathlon gold in the Sydney 2000 Games she knew exactly what she wanted to do.

The fact that Murray was just 12 years old at the time, didn’t know who Cook was or what the sport entailed, underlines just how determined and driven she is.

Now, more than a decade on, the 22-year-old from Clitheroe has a real chance of competing on the same stage as one of her heroes.

“I always remember that poster,” said the former Bowland High School pupil, who is in the GB team for Monday’s World Championships in Rome. “She looked so athletic, so determined and so happy. I remember thinking ‘that’s what I want’.

“It was a few years after those Games when I saw the poster and, in truth, I didn’t really know who she was. My only real memory of the Sydney Olympics was Cathy Freeman winning the 400m.”

But Cook is not her only inspiration. For someone involved in a five discipline event – the modern pentathlon includes swimming, running, shooting, fencing and riding – it is understandable that Murray has other influences.

From her first running coach, John Docker, to Alan Moorhouse at Burnley Bobcats Swimming Club, her mum Debra and grandmother Sylvia Butler, all have played their part.

“I have been very lucky because I have had a lot of people who have helped me,” added Murray a member of Blackburn Harriers. “Even now, whenever I swim, I think of Alan. He sadly died a few years ago but he was a great inspiration.”

Murray’s route in to modern pentathlon was down to good fortune rather than planning – the fact that there was a club, run by Martin Highton, in Clitheroe also helped. A naturally good swimmer and runner, Murray competed in biathlons and then, after learning how to use a target pistol, triathlons.

Having been taught to ride by her grandmother from a young age, it was only the fencing that was missing from her repertoire.

“I was lucky because it just happened that everything was on my own doorstep,” said Murray who is studying French and politics at the University of Bath. “It may never have happened had I have had to travel to other places.”

Murray is hitting top form just at the right time. She is currently ranked number one in the World Cup standings.

Her success in the World Cup, where she won her first medal of her career, a bronze in Russia last month, has seen her rise to 14th in the world rankings.

But she is taking nothing for granted.

“People seem to think I have suddenly become this brilliant athlete but the truth is that I wasn’t in the team last year so my ranking naturally dropped,” she said.

“It is very competitive in the GB team with four of us ranked in the top 20 in the world. It means two of us will miss out on the Olympic Games.”

Ironically, should Murray make the GB team, she has a very good chance of a podium place as the Olympics is regarded as one of the weakest competitions.

“It’s funny really because a lot of the top athletes won’t be there as there is only room for two in each team,” she said. “So those of us who do make it, have a real chance of winning a medal.”

And should it be Murray then she has every chance of being the next poster girl – just like her hero Steph Cook.