Kate French: The diary manager of an Olympic gold medal

Kate French has only just moved to her small Wiltshire village but with an Olympic gold in hand, she’s already become the pride of Chapmanslade.

“Everyone had decorated their houses and the street, that was really nice,” explains Team GB’s first Olympic modern pentathlon champion since Sydney 2000.

"Everyone is so friendly. They did a little drinks party for us one evening as well, they were very welcoming and they all loved watching.

"They said, ‘thank you for bringing us so much excitement' and hearing they were watching and supporting us was so nice.”

Travel restrictions meant it wasn’t just those in her new hamlet that were gripped from home, with family watching on from Wiltshire, Kent, Scotland and even America.

A Games without fans was like no other. But the stories she’s heard since, the tales of stressful viewing, nervous anticipation and an agonising 15-minute delay to her final event, means French doesn’t feel she’s missed out on the fun.

“What I’ve heard, the emotions they felt and where they were, has probably been one of my favourite things of the whole Games. They probably had a more stressful day than I did!”

French need not have worried. Nor should her family.

Plenty can go wrong in the final event of the modern pentathlon, where athletes combine running for 800m with shooting at a target ten metres away with a laser pistol, across multiple laps.

Athletes set off for the final event in order, depending on the points they’ve accrued so far, with the first across the line crowned Olympic champion. That was French’s fate.

She had started the combined in fifth place. By the time she entered the second lap of four, she was in the lead.

Run 800m, hit five targets, run 800m, hit five targets, run 800m, then win gold.

“You think about it every day in training, everything you do is aimed at winning a medal at the Olympics,” she adds.

“I was one of the favourites but to have actually done it on the day, I couldn't believe it. Even now, it hasn't sunk in yet.

“In the back of my head, heading into the combined, I did think a medal was possible.

“I shot my last shot just as some as the others were coming into the range so I knew I had at least ten seconds on everyone. I did smile inside a little at that but I didn't want to jinx it.

“I crossed the line and I didn't celebrate or anything. It was just sheer, 'get to the line' and I think it was more panic.

“There were loads of different emotions – shock that I actually did it, relief that the competition was over and I could relax.

“It's something that's been in my head for the past year – wanting to win a medal, let alone a gold medal, and something I’ve dreamt of since I was tiny.”

Such is the nature of modern pentathlon that ups and downs from event to event is par for the course.

But even just getting to Tokyo for this most unique of Games was its own challenge.

Suddenly, everything that had been worked for in the five years since Rio, was left to chance.

“I think getting on the plane healthy and COVID free was probably the most stressful part,” explains French. “The last month I really tried to just avoid people!

“I was just happy to be there healthy and in one piece. We were out there for about ten days before I competed. We had five days at the holding camp, and I loved Yokohama.

“That camp helped me settle in and get my head around it a bit – the fact that I was actually at an Olympics. It's just a better way to be more prepared.”

This was a Games like no other but one that French at least felt readier for having been an Olympian at Rio 2016.

Five years ago she had a solid swim, fence and ride to sit within contention heading into the combined.

If that story sounds familiar then it should. Only this time, in the same position in Tokyo, the 30-year-old had a vastly different tool in her armoury.

"I was in a good position in Rio but I didn't have the same belief in me that I did in Tokyo,” she added.

"I did the race but not without that, 'I'm going to be on the podium' feeling. But I did in Tokyo – in the back of my head, that belief was there.

"Believing in myself was the difference. I tried my absolute hardest in Rio, but without that belief, I don't feel you can get as far.

"That's why Rio was such an important Games for me, it really helped me step up my performance.

“After that, I knew I could have been on that podium, I was capable of it and that gave me that bit extra."

The ten days between arriving in Japan and competing started slowly, then became quite quick, and by the time competition got going, all became a bit of a blur.

But for French, crossing the finish line was far from the end of her Games – the journey was just beginning.

First came her proud podium-topping moment. Then, a day later, she was in the Tokyo Stadium as Joe Choong joined her in winning Olympic gold.

Before they knew it, the Closing Ceremony was upon them and then came Homecoming, a whirlwind of a Games that is still taking its time to sink in.

Whether French will hang on for Paris and the next Games is yet to be decided.

But while time is on her side before a choice needs to be made, she’s just revelling in a Games that changed everything for her, all while changing nothing at all.

She adds: "My medal hasn't got a place yet as it's been so in demand. It's been a lot of places with me since I've been back.

"It's weird having this and for people to want to see it. I'm no different to the Kate that went out to Tokyo, and now everyone wants to hear from you and meet you. It's weird to get your head around.

“But it’s so nice when there are kids involved. They love seeing the gold medal, and for them to be in awe of it and hopefully inspired is such a nice feeling to come home with.”

So French herself has a place to call home. Now she just needs the same for her medal. Once she’s stopped being the diary manager for it, that is.