By Julien Pretot
PARIS (Reuters) - Four years ago, Elodie Clouvel missed out on an Olympic swimming spot and was scared of horses. Now she is gunning for a modern pentathlon medal at the London Games as well as contemplating a modeling career.
The 23-year-old fought her fears, learned how to ride, shoot and fence and completed an amazing turnaround in less than four years.
"She is full of surprises," her coach, Christian Roudaut, told Reuters at the French National Institute of Sports (INSEP).
"She is a natural fighter, she never gives up."
Clouvel was simply sick of swimming 18-19 kilometers a day.
"I was going to the swimming pool with a heavy heart. Now that feeling is gone," she told Reuters with a smile, revealing a gap between her front teeth, after a short shooting session.
The six-foot tall Clouvel, who was training with Laure Manadou's former coach Philippe Lucas, gave up swimming after failing to make it onto the French Olympic team for the Beijing Games.
She was spotted by the French federation of modern pentathlon, who had noted she had also won the Under-16 cross country French title.
So Clouvel was a natural candidate, although she had to dig deep to overcome her fear for horses.
"I was so scared the first time. I would only have the horse at a walk, maybe a bit of trot but I was scared it would start cantering," she explained.
"I would cry, pretend I had stomach pains so I could avoid riding. It took me two years to overcome the fear. At the beginning, riding the horse scared me as much as bungee jumping. But now I can ride any horse."
Modern pentathlon comprises a series of fencing duels, a 200-metre freestyle swim, a short show jumping event and, since 2009, a combined event of 3,000 meters on the track with shooting sessions every 1,000 meters.
ALL OR NOTHING
Clouvel, who is contemplating a modeling career after she is done with pentathlon, has an indisputable edge over her rivals in the swimming event.
"Pentathlon is not a sign of my failure in swimming. It's a new start for me," she said.
"Obviously, swimming is my strength but I'm also good at fencing."
Roudaut is not surprised the former swimmer has matured into a world-class pentathlete.
"She has an incredible faculty to adapt. After only a few months of fencing, she had all the qualities needed: playful with a taste for a fight," he said.
"Fencing and shooting kind of came naturally. From the start, I knew that I had it in me," said Clouvel.
"You never have to push her during a competition," said Roudaut.
Clouvel, who takes English courses as she is already preparing for her post-athlete career, won her first World Cup event in Rio de Janeiro in March after placing third in last year's World Cup final in London.
"I'm not going there just to participate. I so much want to win that in a way, it's all or nothing," she said.
"The goal is to become Olympic champion even if I know that it is going to be tough. I know these are my first Games but I have no apprehension."
Clouvel, wearing perfect candy pink polish on her fingernails and toenails as she prepares to go for a swim, believes there is a life after pentathlon.
"I'd like to do some modeling," she said, visibly happy to play with the camera.
"But I will go on with pentathlon until the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro."
(Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Ossian Shine)