Life's a beach for Niall

14th December 2007 at 00:00

Until 12 months ago, Niall Laming had never even heard of the sport of biathle, a spin-off from the modern pentathlon where athletes compete over two 1,000-metre runs along the beach either side of a 200-metre swim in the sea.

But now he has tested himself against the world's best, representing Great Britain in the world championships in Monaco after earning a surprise first place in a UK qualifying race.

Niall, 16, a sport and exercise Btec student at Weymouth College in Dorset, is preparing to step up a gear to qualify for the under-18s competition next year. He will be racing over a longer course with two 1,500-metre runs.

He began swimming at the age of five and eventually became a regular part of the South Dorset Tornadoes swimming team as well as a keen water polo player. He was encouraged to take up the combined swimming and running race by a friend from water polo, who was the Great Britain coach for the biathle.

Niall took to the new sport from the beginning and says its drama and competitiveness lift it above other competitions derived from the modern pentathlon, where athletes notch up points from several events over the day.

He said: "I would always rather take part in a race where you rush to be first across the finish line and where you know where you are in the standings rather than waiting for the points to be added up. And it's better than just swimming up and down constantly, which gets a bit boring."

Niall's performances in his first biathle races were so good that he was put forward for trials in Manchester for the Great Britain team. He missed out on a place in the top six and it looked as though he would be staying at home while the others competed in Monaco for the world championship title.

But there was another national contest before the world championships and Niall unexpectedly burst through the field to take first place in his age group, prompting the selectors to make an extra place available for him in Monaco.

In a field of 34 runners from his age group from 15 countries, Niall took 15th place. He was full of praise for the winner, Gomma Aly Eldin, a 6ft 3in teenager from Egypt, who finished about 200 metres ahead of the field. "He was just very good, very strong," Niall said.

Niall's training involves swimming every day as well as running on his days off from college - a total of about 15 hours' work a week to fit in with his studies. On top of that he plays water polo for fun at the weekends.

Asked if he spends any time relaxing, he said: "We have time off, but I usually try to keep training anyway so I don't lose fitness. My mum and dad just wanted us to learn to swim because we live near the sea. I just carried on going."

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