Olympic Champion Kate French targeting Paris 2024 title defence as pentathlon star returns to competition after 18-month break
French, who trains with Pentathlon GB at the University of Bath, has only competed twice since winning gold in record-breaking style at the rescheduled Tokyo Games in August 2021 and took a break from the sport during 2023 to consider her future.
The lure of a third Olympics proved strong, though, and she has returned to training refreshed, recharged and fully focussed on competing at Paris 2024 in six months’ time – although she admits it will be a big challenge.
“I didn’t want to regret not trying,” said French, who also competed at Rio 2016, placing fifth. “I don’t know what’s going to happen this year, whether I will be good enough or not, but I didn’t want to be watching the Games this summer and feel like I hadn’t given it a go.
“I started training towards the end of August and have built back very gradually. I’m enjoying it and I think I’m doing OK so far. There have been ups and downs, as there always are, but the main thing I am trying to do this year is enjoy the journey. That is my focus and hopefully the results will come.
“The dream is to try and defend my title but first I need to qualify! It’s going to be very, very tough. There is a lot of strength and depth in the women’s programme but that has always been the challenge with the British squad, not just qualifying but being selected. It’s no different this year.”
University of Bath alumna French took a short break after the Tokyo Games before competing twice during the 2022 season, winning bronze at the UIPM World Cup in Turkey and placing fifth at the European Championships in Hungary.
She won team gold at the latter event with Charlie Follett and Jo Muir but elected to take time out during 2023, missing the chance to compete in a home World Championships at the University of Bath, to focus on her future.
“I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do post pentathlon or whether I should give Paris a go, and there was everything that was going on with pentathlon as a sport too,” said French. “I just wanted to take a step back and figure it all out.
“My coaches and I decided I needed a proper break. I was an occasional fencing partner for the girls but didn’t do any training, just some running for fitness and enjoyment. It was really nice to have that space and I am very grateful for the continued support of UK Sport and The National Lottery which allowed me to take the necessary time off.
“My husband and I own a property management company in Bath, which is doing really well, and I got more involved with that. I did some corporate events too and travelled with some of the younger Pentathlon GB athletes to the U17 and U19 World Championships which was really fun.
“I kept thinking about Paris, though, and decided I had to give it a go. It’s one year of training, the last year of pentathlon as we currently know it, and I want to give it my all.”
With team-mates Olivia Green and Kerenza Bryson having already secured Team GB’s two women’s Olympic quota places for Paris 2024, French’s qualification route – and chance to put herself in the mix for one of those two spots – comes via the UIPM World Ranking list and her performances on the World Cup circuit.
Before those all-important competitions begin in Cairo, Egypt in early March, French will have an early test at the Hungarian Indoor Open in Budapest from 8-12 February.
“I really don’t know what to expect over the next few months so Budapest will be a good indication of where I am,” she said. “I have a really positive team around me and I’m fortunate to have some fantastic support from LinkFX and MiPermit, which adds another layer of confidence and encouragement to my journey.”
Top picture: Kate French at the University of Bath, where she studied and trains. CREDIT: Nic Delves-Broughton.