Tag Archives: Olympics

Modern Pentathlon

Modern_Pentathlon_Tokyo_2020-wikipediaThis Olympics, I’m watching the Modern Pentathlon. I heard of it a few months ago, in a novel that mentioned that Gen. George Patton had competed in it in the 1912 Olympics. What’s that, I asked Google. The answer was you want to watch!

It’s five sports, performed by each competitor all in one day. Since 2012 two of the activities have been combined. So it’s now four events with competitors doing two sports within one of them.

The sports are:

1. Fencing
2. Show jumping
3. Swimming
4. Pistol shooting
5. Cross-country running


Shooting and running have been combined. All five are Olympics sports in themselves. So Modern Pentathlon Olympians must master five very different sports at the top level in the world.

There are other combined events in the Olympics. Equestrian eventing is show jumping, dressage and cross-country riding. Very different, but all done with a horse. The decathlon and heptathlon, respectively ten and seven activities, are all track and field sports – running, hurdles, long jump etc.

Eli_Bremer_in_2008_Summer_Olympics_modern_pentathlon_fencing_event_3-Tim-Hipps-wikicommonsBut running, shooting, fencing, swimming and riding: what’s the connection? A bit more thought on General Patton might have given me the clue. Soldiering.

Skills of a cavalry soldier

The connection is purpose, not surface. The event was introduced in the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm. A cavalry soldier needed to be able to ride but also run, swim, shoot and do sword battle.

So the winter biathlon – skiing and shooting – is closest to it. It also started as a military training-based sport. But to make the biathlon comparable to the Modern Pentathlon, let’s add, say, snowboarding, luge and ice dancing. And do that last one with a random skater paired with you 20 minutes before competition starts. That’s how the Modern Pentathlon equestrian teams are chosen.

Eli_Bremer_in_2008_Summer_Olympics_modern_pentathlon_show_jumping_event_2-Tim-Hipps-21-aug-2008-wikicommonsOlympics Modern Pentathlon is an individual competition only. Between 1952 and 1992 there were also team events. It was men only until 2000, when women’s competition was introduced. A maximum of 4 athletes per nation can qualify, 2 male and 2 female.

In the beginning, all five events were separate and took place over five days. Over the years, the event has been compressed in times allowed, distances and requirements for competition. Shooting – lasers now, not pistols – is combined with running. Run 800 metres, stop and shoot, run, stop and shoot, 4 times over. The entire event now takes place over three days at the end of the Olympics. A day for qualifying rounds, then one day each for men’s and women’s competition.

Laser_Run_Mixed_Relay_Modern_Pentathlon_2018_YOG_29-BugWarp-wikicommonsAccording to Horse Sport, in 2024 the Modern Pentathlon will be compacted yet again – 90 minutes for the whole thing. Shortening the event is not the choice of the athletes. It’s the IOC’s decision – and presumably the television networks. But I can’t ever remember seeing it on television. And after beach volleyball took over the summer Olympics broadcasts pretty much 24/7, I’ve scoured the networks and sports channels for anything else.

Chad_Senior_Modern_Pentathlon-swim-2000-olympics-Robert-A-Whitehead-USAF-wikicommonsOlympic Dreams – of everything

I can’t imagine the child who would think to say “I want to be a modern pentathlete.” But I am humbled by the enormity of that dream. Canadian modern pentathlete Kelly Fitzsimmons says “We are the Swiss army knife of athletes”.

Canadian modern pentathletes receive no funding from Sport Canada. So their sixth skill must be fundraising for their training – in the pool, track, shooting range, riding arena and wherever it is you fence. Going through Wikimedia Commons, it looks like the military connection is still there.

Sadly, Canada will not be represented in Tokyo. Athletes from 31 countries will compete. It will take place August 5-7, at midnight and after in North America. I will watch – in awe, I’m sure.

See my Olympic Games of Chance – the 2016 Rio Games when it seemed  that everything that could go wrong did. Little did we know!

Olympic Games of Chance

Two days to the Rio Olympics opening ceremonies, and the games of chance are still being played. The Zika virus, polluted water venues, 1964_Olympics_equestrian_stamp_Japan-wikicommons games of chanceand a bacterial risk to horses.

Glanders is a contagious fatal equine respiratory disease. Humans can contract it too. In the past few years, hundreds of Brazilian horses have been killed to stop its spread. Horse owners argued that the tests are too often inaccurate. Health officials did not want to endanger horses coming for the games. The risk of infection is still there, and riders decided to take it.

You’d expect a story like this would get a lot of coverage. It didn’t. There’s been too many other things going wrong in Brazil.

The building rush

Rio_de_Janeiro_bid_banner_2016_Summer_Olympics-rodrigo-Soldon-wikicommonsOfficials of the IOC and host country will take any and all measures to ensure safety and smooth-sailing, so to speak, for the games. They can kill horses, can’t they, but they can’t kill problematic humans. They can move them however. Poor areas deemed unsightly or dangerous to visitors and tv cameras are relocated, with bulldozers usually.

National funds are used to build facilities always said to improve post-Olympics life for residents. Rarely do they. Rushed or shoddy construction, and Olympic-size facilities that are way more than what a city needs for sports and recreation. Velodromo_Municipal_do_Rio_2016a-Team-Erdgas-wikicommons

Tracks, playing fields and pools don’t keep themselves up. They require continued expenditure of money and time. Cities around the world are littered with unused remnants of their Olympic Games. No money. The buildings may crumble quickly, but the Olympic debt doesn’t.

Reuse: A Permanent Home

It’s way past time for a permanent Olympics home. Greece, for summer games, and Switzerland, winter games, would work. Greece has the history of the ancient Olympians. Switzerland has the Alps, clock makers and an aura of neutrality. It also has the IOC headquarters. Greece, analysts and athletes have made good arguments for these sites long before I thought of them. Maybe another couple of sites as well, so there is a fallback in case of natural or political turmoil.

Pierre de Coubertin, father of the modern Olympics, believed that moving the games around would foster global understanding by letting people get to know different countries, different peoples. Good point. But it is outweighed by the cost, corruption and conflict that accompany every Olympic games.

Sarajevo_1984-Olympic_Symbol-Hedwig-Klawuttke-1997-wikicommonsI hope the Rio Games go well. But I hope too that we remember the frightful games of chance – natural and socio-political – that occurred in the lead-up to them. It’s time to rethink the Olympics for the long term. Not just say whew, that went better than expected, and stumble along to the next ones.

Four years ago, logistical difficulties led to my own Olympic Eventing so I could watch the London games.

Dressage Top Hat

dorothee schneider diva royal ger-dderosaphotoA requirement for safety helmets to be worn by riders in all equestrian shows is a good idea and, by and large, the helmets look ok. But dressage needs something that is as elegant as the sport itself. Something that looks like, well, the traditional top hat.

After watching the Olympics dressage, where some riders wore top hats and some wore crash helmets, I thought can’t technology come top hat helmet by l'Hiverup with a protective helmet with style? I googled it and, yes, others have thought the same thing.

The helmet on the left looks good. I’d like to see it on a human head to see its proportions and if it still looks good when on. The dressage helmet below  does have the shape of a top hat and obviously the protective capabilities of a helmet. But its size, with that protection, makes it also makes it look kinda like The Cat in the Hat.

Megan Rust helmet top hatA serious head injury in 2010 by Olympics dressage rider Courtney King-Dye started the move for helmets for all riders in all disciplines. Yes, it’s a good idea.  A horse cantering, no matter how elegantly in dressage, is still moving at a good speed and a fall can cause the rider a lot of damage.

But dressage, of all the equestrian sports, is also an art form. Looks and beauty of movement on the part of horse and rider is an Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro 2012 Olympic dressageimportant element. Riders wearing a standard shaped crash helmet may as well complete the look by wearing snowmobile pants.

In show jumping and eventing, the crash helmet somehow doesn’t look as bad. These are more clearly “sport” even though there is artistry in what horse and rider are doing.

But in dressage, the athleticism involved is hidden from view so that the beauty of the movement can be seen. Like in figure skating, circus performance and dance. You know these are superb athletes but you don’t want to see the strain of muscles pumping. You want to see the beauty and fluidity of motion.

If dressage riders are going to wear standard issue crash helmets, you might as well reiningdemand ballerinas wear hockey knee and elbow pads. Please, scientists, keep working on a helmet that preserves the elegance of dressage as well as the heads of riders. While you’re at it, a protective cowboy hat for reining and all Western disciplines would be good. The look of that hat is important too.

Congratulations to Team GB for winning gold in team dressage and show jumping. And thanks to all competitors for incredibly exciting and beautiful performances.

Olympic Eventing

Trying to watch the Olympics Equestrian Eventing of the past three days, I’ve performed dog coming down stairsin my own Eventing competition. It includes the Stair Dash, Pet Hurdles and Speed Remote Handling.

It’s due to television reception, or lack of. We now have satellite tv and I’m sure when the bugs get worked out, it will be fine. But that hasn’t happened in time for Olympics watching. A new box is on a truck on its way here from somewhere. I don’t watch sports much: World Cup, Triple Crown races, show jumping, equestrian games and the Olympics. But those events alone are reason to have a big screen high definition tv.

“It’s the box”

We have a big television in the living room, with its fancy HD box. Upstairs is a smaller tv with a “standard” box. The Olympics on tv in upstairs denupstairs one has worked fine, but the living room one? Sometimes it’s fine but it often cuts out or there’s no signal at all when you turn it on. We were told weather affects satellite reception so at first thought there must be a storm somewhere. No problem, see how it goes, there’s other things to do anyway. But when it didn’t work more often than it did, I called the company. “It’s the box,” the lady said after taking me through diagnostic unplugging and resetting, “we’ll send out another one – 3 to 5 days.”

But last Friday was the opening ceremony for the Olympics. No life in the big screen box at all. So I watched upstairs. It was impressive but I knew how much more so it would be if I could only watch it downstairs on high def big tv. Dogs’ dinner was late because the commercial breaks weren’t long enough to run downstairs and feed them. Midway through Paul McCartney’s Hey Jude, a cat fight downstairs couldn’t be ignored, so I missed the end of the show.

Eventing to watch Eventing

It was during the equestrian Eventing that I perfected my own eventing. Running up and down the stairs, leaping over animals, simultaneous coordination of remote and tv buttons. I kept Olympic medal presentation on big screenfiddling with the big screen box, unplugging cords I hadn’t unplugged before. Yesterday, it worked. I watched swimming and it was glorious. I left the tv on and went out, came back and there was still a picture. Settled in to watch the show jumping part of Eventing. Even without high definition on OLN, it was fabulous. You could see every detail of the horse and the jumps. I could easily do other things during commercials. Maybe this box is fine, it must have been that last cable I reconnected.

tv with no signal messageZara Phillips and High Kingdom started their ride in the individual competition – and the signal went out. Even surpassing the gold medal standard in simultaneous performance of my personal eventing elements, I didn’t get the upstairs tv on in time to see the end of their ride.

Dressage starts tomorrow. The new box had better be here.


Canadian athletics and the world of show jumping lost a superstar last Sunday. The great Hickstead died during competition in Verona, Italy November 6th at age 15. His big heart just gave out it seems.

Hickstead 2006 Capital Classic-wikicommons-222fjbHe and rider Eric Lamaze became heroes of Canadian sport, even for those not interested in show jumping. Especially after they won individual gold and team silver for Canada in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, everyone knew their names.

Both of them fought great odds and have the kind of rags to riches stories that we all love. Hickstead was a small horse by show jumper standards, but he put every ounce of determination he had into every jump. He was a joy to watch, back hooves stretched behind him as he cleared fences and water jumps.

Horse Superstar

To those too young to remember Ian Millar’s Big Ben, Hickstead is the epitome of show jumping beauty. To those of us who watched Big Ben jump, even if we were only watching him on television, Hickstead became a worthy successor to that big beautiful horse. And Eric Lamaze has joined Captain Canada himself, Ian Millar, as horsemen we admire and are proud to call our own.

Hickstead made me cry many times. Watching him fly way over fences, seeing the Hickstead jumping at 2008 Olympics - horse superstarexpanse of air between him and the obstacle. Crying with happiness that he did it and crying in awe of his beauty. Tears of relief when he’d complete a round safely and with no faults. Crying at the pride on his face and on Eric’s when they’d finish, and the obvious connection between the two of them. Then last Sunday, hearing the news of his death and crying for the loss of such a great horse.

He was getting up in years for what he was doing and Eric was aware of that, not over-pushing him and saving his strength. He also wasn’t planning to retire him and I’m glad for that. Hickstead clearly loved jumping. He died doing what he loved. We should all be so lucky. Goodbye, Hickstead. Watching you gave me great joy.