With one year to go - as of today, rather than Wednesday as Diamond Geezer observes - until the London 2012 Olympic Games begin, we begin a series giving you the Londonist lowdown on all 29 sports of the Olympics and Paralympics and how to get involved with them here in London.
Modern Pentathlon. The multi-tasker of the summer Olympic sports. That quiet kid who excels at any sport he tries but doesn’t brag about it. That’s modern pentathlon. Fencing, swimming, equestrian show jumping, and a 3 kilometre run interspersed with pistol shooting.
The sport was invented by Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the Modern Olympic Games and the International Olympic Committee. It is a re-vamped version of the ancient Games’ original penthalon, which consisted of wrestling, long jump, javelin, discus and a 200 yard sprint called the Stadion foot race. The first modern pentathlon took place at the 1912 Games in Stockholm. It almost lost its place in the Olympics, due to limited interest beyond Eastern Europe, but a vote in 2005 kept it on the roster until 2012.
Today’s competitors are elite, all-around athletes. The event is scheduled for 11 (men) and 12 (women) August 2012. The fast and furious day starts off with epée fencing in the Handball Arena in Stratford. Each athlete faces every other competitor; if neither scores a hit in the first minute of the bout, both are handed a defeat.
Next up: a 200 metre freestyle swim, in the Aquatics Centre. Everyone then hot foots it down to Greenwich Park. There, each competitor gets an unfamiliar horse whom he or she rides over a 350 to 450 metre course with a variety of show jumps. A lot of modern pentathletes come from equestrian backgrounds, so this stage is viewed as key.
Last up, a combined event of running and pistol shooting. The structure is complex as handicaps are put in place for each athlete’s starting point, but in short: it’s a 3km run, stopping after each kilometre to try to shoot a target five times in 70 seconds. Finish. Time for the medal ceremony.
Did you know that the women of Team GB have taken a medal in each of the Games since women’s event started in 2000? Brit Heather Fell won the silver medal in the Beijing Games and will be back next year to try to for gold.
The British men have never won an individual medal in the sport, but the signs were positive after the International Modern Pentathlon Union World Cup final held in London at Greenwich Park on 9 and 10 July. At the Olympic test event, Jamie Cooke broke the world record for the swimming portion of the event by 1.11 seconds and teammate Nick Woodbridge placed third overall.
Up for the challenge of the modern pentathlon yourself? The Southeast region of Pentathlon GB hosts taster sessions and training events throughout the year. Fees are very reasonable and you can train for combinations of two or three of the events at a time, rather than the full whack. (Or you could always just go for a run in the park and a swim at the local pool and call it a first step towards your career in modern pentathlon.)
Find out more at Pentathlon GB - the National Governing Body for Modern Pentathlon.