Modern pentathlon: all you need to know

  • Why not take up a new sport this year? In fact, why not take up 5 sports at the same time? The Olympic sport of modern pentathlon is an extremely rewarding means of exercise.

    Here are 13 things you need to know about the sport to get you started:

    1.The basics

    Modern Pentathlon is comprised of 5 events usually over 1 day — running, swimming, pistol shooting, fencing and showjumping. Each event is held separately (in contrast to triathlon, which is continuous), apart from the run and shoot, which is held together in a challenging combined event.

    Modern Pentathlon

    2. The history

    Modern Pentathlon was invented by the army officer and founder of the modern Olympic Games, Baron Pierre de Coubertin. As the events of the ancient pentathlon were modelled after the skills of the ideal soldier of Ancient Greece, Coubertin created the contest to simulate the experience of a 19th-century cavalry soldier stuck behind enemy lines. He must ride an unfamiliar horse, swim across a river, run and duel with the enemy with a pistol and sword.

    3. Modern changes

    The sport often comes under criticism for being too traditional. To combat this several innovations have been made recently to update the sport for the 21st Century. In 2009 the run and shoot components were combined and the event was held at the end of the competition, with the leader after the first 3 disciplines starting the run, followed by the rest of the pack spaced at time intervals according to the amount of points they are behind the leader. This means that whoever crosses the line first wins! This is known as a Hungarian Start. The pistol shooting was also converted to laser in 2011.

    4. The day of the competition

    Competition day brings with it its own dilemmas. How on earth do you equip yourself for a manic day of 5 different sports? Preparation is crucial — you don’t want to be caught short without your swimming costume in the pool. Nutrition is also vital, with the need to maintain energy levels and hydration over the course of the day. ‘Grazing’ throughout the day, eating little and often, is an oft-used tactic — just an excuse to fill your boots with sugary goodness.

    Modern pentathlon2

    5. There’s a retro film

    The 1994 film Pentathlon starring Dolph Lundgren shows the sport in all its glory. Seemingly starting off as a promotional video, the film quickly dissolves into a fast-paced action thriller, almost laughable with its early 90s vibe. Take a look at the trailer:

    6. Oxbridge

    At university level there is a high degree of competition between Britain’s most famous academic institutions — Cambridge and Oxford. The Cambridge Modern Pentathlon Club (CUMPC) and Oxford Modern Pentathlon Association (OUMPA) clash in their annual Varsity Match in April each year, the culmination of the season.

    7. The men

    Great Britain performs well in modern pentathlon internationally, with many recent successes. Nick Woodbridge, the 27-year-old Olympian and British Modern Pentathlon Athlete of the Year 2013, won silver at the World Championship in August 2013 in Taiwain. Sam Weale also competed in London 2012 alongside Nick, and in Beijing in 2008.

    8. The women

    Individually, the greatest success has come in the women’s competition, which was only included in the Olympics from 2000. Mhairi Spence won World Championship gold in May 2012,and competed in London 2012 alongside fellow GB athlete Samantha Murray, who secured Olympic silver. Heather Fell narrowly missed out on qualifying for the London Olympic Games, but gained silver at Beijing in 2008.

    9. Past heroes

    Steph Cook certainly qualifies as a Pentahlon heroine. Starting her education at Bedford High School, Steph went on to study at Cambridge, before completing her clinical medicine course at Oxford, winning the women’s individual title at the Varsity match in 1997. She went on to win Olympic gold at the Sydney Olympics in 2000. Kate Allenby, a bronze medallist at Sydney, is another former Olympian, now a PE teacher in Bath. Jim Fox has been described as one of the most influential figures in the development of pentathlon in Britain, winning the British title a record ten times and competing in four Olympic games up until 1976, where he won team gold along with Danny Nightingale and Adrian Parker.

    10. Ones to watch

    Joe Evans, 20, who won bronze in his first Modern Pentathlon World Cup in February, collected the newcomer of the year award for British Modern Pentathlon. Sam Curry has also shown much promise. The 20-year-old studying Politics and International Relations at Bath University won bronze at the European Junior Championships in Bulgaria in 2013.

    Pentathlon GB’s High Performance Centre is situated at the University of Bath and so many future Olympic hopefuls study there. However not all international athletes study at Bath. 19-year-old Tom Lees studies geography at Oxford University, where he also competes for OUMPA. He made his World Cup debut in Chengdu, China in April 2013.

    11. Pony Club

    Many past and current pentathletes come from a Pony Club background, often from Tetrathlon, which shares 4 of the 5 disciplines, just minus the fencing. These athletes include Nick Woodbridge, Freyja Prentice, Mhairi Spence and Kate Allenby. It’s a great route into the sport — you just need to watch the showjumping phase to see that having a Pony Club background can really give you a head start.

    12. It’s fun!

    Pentathlon, as with most sports, is primarily about enjoyment. Most people come into the sport having only ever experienced 1 or 2 of the disciplines, if any. Therefore it’s a perfect chance to try your hand at something new.

    13. Pentathletes are perfect sportsmen and women

    Aristotle said: “The most perfect sportsmen, therefore, are the pentathletes because in their bodies strength and speed are combined in beautiful harmony.” So there we go, something to aspire to!

    If you want to get involved with Modern Pentathlon, or just want to find out more about the sport, visit www.pentathlongb.org

    (Pictures by Benjamin Baker)

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