Oxford’s first Sports Scholar

Chris Statter speaks to top pentathlete Aly Rowett, about her Dark Blue ScholarshipAly Rowell is the first Dark Blue Scholar. An exceptionally talented pentathlete and lacrosse player, the University College student enjoys all the benefits of a scholarship which includes complementary membership of the Pulse Gym and new Rosenblatt Swimming Pool, a £500 grant towards the purchasing of sporting equipment and even a free car parking space at the Sports Complex on Iffley Road. This prestigious scholarship, made possible by royalty payments from the Dark Blue clothing worn by many University teams, is intended to support athletes who demonstrate high achievement or have the potential for high achievement in their chosen sport. It is available to any student who fulfils the criteria necessary to compete in a first team Varsity match, although at the moment there can only be one fortunate recipient. Rowell is certainly a fine selection. She took part in her first modern pentathlon when she was fifteen. It was the Nationals and she won. This year she surpassed the Oxford record of Olympian Stephanie Cook. In her second sport, lacrosse, she has represented Wales at U19 level, travelling to Baltimore for the recent World Championships at which the team finished a respectable seventh. There is no doubting her commitment to sport. Modern pentathlon is an all-consuming affair, both with regard to time and resources. She possesses her own fencing kit, air pistol and horse. The significant entrance fees, transport costs and lack of prize money make the sport an exclusive pastime. Training is hectic, divided into two sections, one of which is skills-related, the other physical. Riding in Oxford can be problematic, so Rowell heads home to Monmouthshire at weekends for some extra groundwork. If there is a weakness to be found, it is in the shooting discipline. “I am very erratic,” she says. “Sometimes I shoot brilliantly, other times terribly. It is a very tough sport, because the slightest bit of nerves can ruin the performance, which is hard to control when adrenaline is so important for the other four events.” That Rowell is a remarkable sportswoman is undeniable. She can hit the x-ring from ten metres with a 4.5mm pistol, swim the 200m freestyle in 2 minutes 16 seconds and run the 3000m in just over eleven minutes. Add to that a level of horsemanship and fencing expertise that has seen her compete for Wales in the individual events and it is possible to comprehend exactly why Rowell is on course for major sporting achievement at an international level. Beijing 2008 is the target. Rowell, in her second year of a Physiology course, intends to leave Oxford in 2005 to join the group of top pentathletes already assembled at Bath University. Should she have gone to Bath? Rowell does not think so. It would have been too much pressure. The Dark Blue Scholar is a promising athlete with time on her side.ARCHIVE: 1st Week MT2003