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We all know that women are great at multi-tasking. For most of us, that means supervising maths homework while feeding the cats, creating a perfect costume for the nativity play, and holding down a full-time job.

For Britain's star women modern pentathletes it means shooting, fencing, swimming, riding and running - all in one action-packed Olympic day.

Eleanor Oldroyd talks to Georgina Harland

As I struggled to hold several bits of recording equipment at a time while interviewing Athens bronze medallist Georgina Harland, we reflected on the skills needed to master five totally different sporting disciplines.

The bottom line is - you almost certainly can't.

To be equally as good in the controlled, technical sports of shooting and fencing as you are at the physically demanding swimming and running sections, and to combine that with brilliant horseman-(or woman)-ship on a horse which you've never seen before the day of competition - well, the search for a Perfect Five is something even GB performance director Jan Bartu has found frustratingly elusive.

Harland has, in the past, excelled in the run - the 3km cross country conclusion to the modern pentathlon's day of pain. It's meant that she's been able to start slowly in the shooting and fencing, and make up for any shortfall in points by running past the rest of the field and onto the podium.

But a year of ill health and fitness problems has meant that she's concentrated more recently on her technical events. She's hoping that she'll be able to make another late run at the World Championships in Hungary and clinch qualification for Beijing.

The competition is tight. Only two of four talented pentathletes (Harland, Heather Fell, Katy Livingston and Mhairi Spence) will make it onto the plane to China. All will be decided after the Worlds in Budapest at the end of the month.

They represent a genuine British success story. Since modern pentathlon was opened up to women at the Sydney Olympics in 2000, GB have won half the medals on offer: gold and bronze for Steph Cook and Kate Allenby in Sydney, bronze for Harland in Athens.

And that success could mark the end to 12 years of hurt for Britain's men - 1996 was the last time a British male pentathlete qualified for the Olympics, but that could be about to change.

Thanks to the lottery funding that came into the sport as a result of the women's success in Sydney and Athens, Sam Weale, Nick Woodbridge and Ben McLean have been able to hone their skills at the University of Bath's impressive modern pentathlon centre, and good results in Budapest could mean a place in Beijing.

If they're to add their names to the list of past GB medallists, including Jim Fox and Richard Phelps, Weale told me they'll owe a lot of it to the trail blazed by their female colleagues.

Looks like the sisters aren't just doing it for themselves - they're doing it for the brothers, too.

You can see photos from the modern pentathlon centre in Bath by visiting BBC Sport's Flickr stream.


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