This 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:
2. Show jumping
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.
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.
Olympics 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.
According 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.
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!