Tag Archives: sports

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!


In the late 1980s in Costa Rica, my Spanish language teacher was trying to convey ‘juego’, or game. She gave what she thought was a huge clue. She tapped her finger on a picture taped on the wall: a man kicking a soccer ball. I had no idea. So a whisper: Maradona. Huh? She switched to English – which she never did – so she could be PELE-1963_wikicommonssure about this. Did I really not know who Diego Maradona was? I didn’t. She was speechless. But if it had been a picture of Pelé, I’d have got it right off the bat.

I thought of this while listening to an interview on CBC’s Day 6 with the makers of the film Pelé. It will be released Tuesday on Netflix. I’ve known who Pelé is since I was a kid, but I wasn’t a soccer fan. Why, I’ve wondered.

Maybe it’s because Pelé is one of the pantheon of athletes we all know. Famous names like Muhammed Ali, Mickey Mantle, Secretariat. But baseball, boxing and horse racing have long been part of North American sports popular culture. Soccer not so much. Until Pelé.

The Beautiful Game

His career was in Brazil. Pelé played for the Santos team from 1956 to 1974 and, of course, on the national team. Brazil won the World Cup in 1958, 1962 and 1970. Pelé retired in 1974. Then he returned to play with the New York Cosmos in 1975. And brought soccer to the USA.

Pele_debut_v_tornado-1975-Cosmos-El-Grafico-wikicommonsI can’t remember for sure, but maybe that’s when I first knew of Pelé. Maybe a soccer player struck a chord for me because, in school, the only time I actually looked forward to Phys Ed was when we played soccer. It was only a few brief weeks sandwiched between baseball and basketball. Those team sports were nightmarish hells. But somehow soccer was different. It was fun!

I never played soccer again and, obviously, didn’t become a fan. But, maybe due to my good experience with the game, Pelé had engrained himself in my brain. Maradona did too after my language class, and I understood why my teacher was so astonished.

I have become a World Cup soccer fan. Thanks to a friend who did a play-by-play for me during the 1998 World Cup games, every four years I pick my teams and settle in to watch and cheer and cry. So thanks, Pelé. You made the game more beautiful.

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.

Show Jumper

Coming up fast to the fence, feeling the muscles gather beneath you, crouching low over Ian-Millar-and-In-Style,-winners-of-WEF-Challenge-Cup-Round-7the horse’s neck, then springboarding into the air. Sailing over the rail, touching down on the other side, horse and you regaining balance and cantering on. The exhilaration of flying. One time I did this.

I had no business jumping, in fact had no plans to. I was taking English riding lessons at a large stable. Lessons consisted of riding around in small circles, learning balance and control. I liked it; just being on a horse’s back was enough for me. I had many different teachers, all young women who had ridden since they could walk. The horse was often different too. They wanted you to learn to ride any horse.

One week, only one teacher was there. The others were at a show or something. She had never taught me before. Maybe she was bored, tired of watching incompetent people ride in circles or, with it just being two of us, felt like having some fun. She said, “do you feel like jumping?” I stared open-mouthed and said “I don’t know how to do that.” She shrugged and said “up to you.” I said ok. I’d never ridden that horse before either. He was a good choice. He knew what he was doing.


Show jumping sequence over fence, DelawareI was like a floppy sack of potatoes on his back on the first jump. I’d chickened out several times leading up to that; getting to the jump, then losing my nerve and pulling him up. I daresay he was fed up with me and probably as surprised as I was when, finally, I let him keep going.

I remember the power surge as he prepared to jump. But I don’t remember the actual jump. I closed my eyes to keep my heart from stopping. I reopened them when we landed on the other side, both of us in one piece and me still on his back.

Then I wanted to do it again. That time was perfect. I made myself keep my eyes open 2008 Olympics poster, Eric Lamaze and Hicksteadand experience it. Riding Pegasus. It was bliss. I was Ian Millar and Eric Lamaze rolled into one.

Third time, I unbalanced myself. He jumped straight, but I came off to the left. He circled around and stood looking at me. My teacher thought maybe that should be the end of my lesson for the day. So I got back up on him – always get back on the horse – and rode around a bit.

After the Jump

I took him to the barn, took his tack off and groomed him. Then I went to my car. Standing beside it, I had no idea where I was. The barn didn’t look familiar and I didn’t know how I got there, or why. After a few minutes of concentrated thought, I remembered my lesson, the jumps and the fall.

The next week, I had a familiar teacher. She didn’t mention jumping and I didn’t tell her about the week before. I kept taking lessons, but never jumped again. My time as Captain Canada was over. But it was worth every second of terror and the concussion to fly that one time.

Skating on the canal

Low-flying on glass, long swooping strides pushing you along. Wind Rideau Canal skatewayat your back propelling you. Wind coming at you, slowing you, your legs pushing forward into its face. It’s you and the power and glory of winter. From the National Arts Centre to Carleton University. It’s skating on the Rideau Canal in Ottawa.

I never learned to skate when I was a kid. I spent my very first years and my early teen years in a small Ontario village where the arena was the centre of town. Girls figure-skated, boys played hockey. Everybody cheered the local heroes – the Junior D hockey players with NHL dreams. It happened for a few. They left on hockey scholarships, went to farm teams. Mostly, they came back. Probably they play in the old-timers games at the arena now.

We didn’t live in that village during those formative years that would have given me proficiency on the ice. When the village kids started skating lessons, we’d moved to a city. Organizing skating wasn’t so easy. I never took lessons. Public rinks were scary places full of people who knocked you over as you stood wobbling on narrow blades.

Living near the canal

Later I moved to Ottawa. A friend and I rented an apartment off Elgin Rideau Canal skatingStreet near the canal. She was from my hometown. She had taken skating lessons. And she owned two pairs of skates.

So to the canal in winter. She held my arm until I was steady. She showed me how to push and glide. Then she glided alongside, holding my arm. Gently she let go. I panicked, but I didn’t fall over. One foot, swoosh, then the other pushing ahead, swoosh, then again. I was skating. It was like flying. In daylight and in dark – swoosh, glide, glide, swoosh.

It was the beginning of my love affair with snow, cold, ice, winter. I moved away after that year.  Next winter, I lived near a large pond that froze solid.  I bought skates. I can skate! No. Skates on, totter on the ice, fall over. Stand up, fall over. Take a step – no swoosh, no glide. Just bruises. Skates got hung up, eventually lost.

Graphic for Rideau Canal, from Via Rail siteFifteen years later, back in Ottawa. Living on the other side of downtown this time. But treks to the canal in winter. You could rent skates there now. Fearful, maybe it had all been a dream, maybe I’d make a fool out of myself. There with another friend who couldn’t skate. I wasn’t going to be able to help him. He gave me courage: we’d made fools of ourselves in enough places, we might as well do so on the canal.

Beavertail stand, Rideau CanalSkates on, stepping fearfully out on the ice. Step, swoosh, glide. Glide, swoosh, glide. I did it. So did he. I helped him balance a few times when he tottered. We fell a couple times. But so what? We swooshed and glided the whole length of the canal. It was just as magical as it had been before. I felt like Toller Cranston.

The canal was a different place then. The ice was kept clear all the way to Carleton. Hot chocolate and beaver tail stands were all along the length of it. Other skaters also were. But you still didn’t feel crowded, you didn’t feel like a rat in a lab maze.

A skating Nanook of the North

Canal, by QueenswayWhen I’d first skated there, only a rink-sized patch of ice was kept clear near the Arts Centre. The rest was left to the wind Zamboni. Your ability to skate the length of it depended on the wind and your skill in navigating ice bumps and snow. There were no lights, no hot chocolate-filled oases along the way. You were on your own in the elements. It was nice, especially at night, the feeling of being alone in the frozen tundra.

But the lights, hot chocolate and fellow skaters of 15 years later was also nice. You didn’t feel like Nanook of the North, but you did feel part of a Christmas card world.

I’ve never tried skating again. I don’t know if I could or not. I own skates. They hang in Skating on the canal at nightthe closet and, when I look at them, I hear the swoosh swoosh sound of the blades and feel the crisp winter air of Ottawa. It’s ok with me if the Rideau Canal is the only place I can skate. It makes it magical. In Ottawa, I can be Joanie Rochette.

The top and bottom two photos are from the blog Images of Centretown, the 2nd is from Wikipedia, the 3rd is on the Via Rail site and the 4th is from Let’s Go Ottawa (Dec. 6th 2010). Thanks for reminding me!