19 July 2017

Olympian Victoria Pendleton Learns to Joust at Kenilworth Castle

Double Olympic gold medallist Victoria Pendleton has become English Heritage's newest jouster, undergoing tuition at Kenilworth Castle.

Victoria in armour outside Kenilworth Castle

Champion cyclist Victoria Pendleton launched English Heritage's Medieval Knights Season as she swapped her bicycle for a steed, her lycra for a full suit of armour, and faced English Heritage's expert jousters at a special training session at Kenilworth Castle in Warwickshire.

A daunting challenge faced Victoria as she saddled up wearing 45kg of armour, steadied a 12ft lance and set off towards her opponent at a rapid gallop. Coached by English Heritage's jousting expert Dominic Sewell, she took her skill as a jockey to new levels during a two-day bootcamp that tested her strength, horsemanship and mental resolve.

As recent research by English Heritage revealed, jousting demands a similar level of fitness and strength to that of modern sportspeople such as professional footballers and top tennis players. The study carried out at the University of Bath's Sport Science Centre found that today's jousters are the ultimate all-round athletes, with a broad athletic skillset that rivals the requirements of more mainstream sports.

Taking to the jousting field, Victoria agreed that the sport of kings is worthy of recognition. She said:

"I now have a huge amount of respect for the sport, much greater than before. I would highly recommend bringing some friends and family to a joust at an English Heritage castle - you'll be thrilled to see this spectacular and ancient sport being performed right in front of you."

Victoria Pendleton discussed the sport with her jousting opponent Nicky Willis

Victoria Pendleton discussed the sport with her jousting opponent Nicky Willis

A natural knight

After getting to know her steed, Duke, the Olympian was fitted with her armour and took to the tilt to face English Heritage's first female jouster, Nicky Willis.

Victoria reacted to facing the professional:

"I'm not going to lie, I wouldn't want to meet her in a real joust. She would definitely take me out. And I now have a new role model to look up to. When I watched her she made it look so easy, as all great sports people do. And when you experience it for yourself you realise just how tough it is. So I am definitely in awe of her right now."

However, Dominic was impressed by how quickly Victoria took to the sport. He said:

"Jousting isn't easy. Riding horses is hard, wearing armour is hard, carrying a lance is hard. Doing all three things at once while trying to strike your opponent is even more difficult. But Victoria exceeded our expectations, she was absolutely brilliant and we are delighted she's on the English Heritage team."

In 45kg of armour, mounting a horse is no mean feat even for an experienced jockey.

In 45kg of armour, mounting a horse is no mean feat even for an experienced jockey.

Witness the fitness

Last summer, English Heritage launched a campaign for jousting to be recognised as an Olympic sport. Since then, thousands of people have signed our petition calling for England's first national sport to be included in a future Olympic Games. 

Our jousting Olympian agreed and said:

"I've seen first-hand how physically fit you need to be to joust and the sheer skill and strength involved. It's just as physically exerting as competitive cycling or horse-racing. Jousting definitely deserves its place at the Olympic table."

This summer, you can see for yourself the athleticism and skill that makes jousting worthy of a place among the world's greatest sports. English Heritage is hosting a programme of live jousts and knights' tournaments at castles and historic sites across England. As part of the Medieval Knights Season, there are also opportunities for children to get involved including hobby horse jousting, kids' battles, sword skills, and trying on armour.

As for Victoria, the impression the sport has made is clear. "I will joust again," she said. "Practice makes perfect - and I need a lot of practice."

Find out more about our Knights and Jousts events and book your tickets today

Read more about Victoria's day in her own words on our blog

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