Modern Pentathlon and Confessions From The Olympic Fanatic

Photos courtesy of A.P. Phillips

I have a few confessions I need to make.

In 2010 I wrote about Modern Pentathlon, taking the stand that the sport was antiquated, doubting its right to be a medal sport in the Modern-Day Olympic Games.

First confession:  I was wrong.

A couple of months ago I was thrilled to learn that the first Modern Pentathlon World Cup Series event would be in my home state of North Carolina.  Moreover, I felt that I needed to see this sport up close and in person.  Perhaps I could learn more about Modern Pentathlon and reconsider my stance.

On March 8 the Modern Pentathlon World Cup Series began in Charlotte, North Carolina.  As a North Carolinian, I’m extremely proud of the Queen City for its job of hosting.  From the moment I applied for my first ever press pass until the competition ended on Sunday, I was treated with the utmost courtesy by all.  Charlotte offered warm Southern hospitality.   The weather was, for the most part, pleasant.  And according to several of the female Pentathletes, Charlotte offered some wonderful shopping for its guests.

In addition my very own press pass, I was joined by my photographer friend A.P. Phillips, who took some beautiful photographs of the event.  I encourage you to check out some of her photos she took at the event by watching this slide show!

As a youngster, it had always been my dream to grow up to become a sports journalist.  Life took another route, but as many of you know, my love for the Olympics never waned.  Until now, this blog was a means of expressing my opinions and staying connected to the Games.  Last weekend my blog took me where I’d only ever dreamed of before:  An Olympic qualifying event with media credentials.

My spouse offered sage advice.  “This is your first event.  You’re not a journalist, so don’t try to cover it like one.  You’re The Olympic Fanatic.   Enjoy taking it all in.”  He was right.  As much as I wanted to interview some of the athletes, I knew that I wasn’t ready just yet.  Let me get an event under my belt and become more comfortable.

Over the four-day event this 30-something found herself giddy with excitement, grinning from ear to ear and in awe of the athletes surrounding her.  Olympic medalists!  Olympic hopefuls!  Olympic coaches!  Whether old or young, American or other nationality, they’re all my heroes.  It was….nirvana.

In 1996 I attended two Olympic events in Atlanta strictly as a paid spectator, almost swallowed up by the throng of crowds and security.  The Modern Pentathlon World Cup event offered a more intimate setting.  I could absorb the total experience of watching an Olympic sport, observing the body language of the athletes, occasionally listening to their chatter, and better understanding a sport of which I knew very little.  There were no annoying commercial breaks, biased television commentary, or bad camera angles.  Everything I wanted and needed was before me.

Second confession:  I am officially in love with Modern Pentathlon and its athletes.  Forgive me, Pierre de Coubertin, for doubting your wisdom!

Although a fanatic, I am hardly the expert on all Olympic events; and after all, I’ve had to rely solely on NBC’s mediocre coverage of Olympics, which means I only was able to watch what it offered on the television.  Leading up the event, I’d studied up on Modern Pentathlon and its current stars. I had my eye on the British Pentathletes;  Lena Schoneborn of Germany; Aya Medany of Egypt;  and Adam Marosi of Hungary.

For many of those competing, there was a competition within the competition.  Multiple talented athletes are competing for one of two coveted spots on their country’s  Olympic Team.  This was especially true for Great Britain.  Jamie Cooke, Sam Weale, and Nick Woodbridge are all three gunning for a place on the British men’s team.  The competition is even tighter for the British women with Heather Fell, Katy Livingston, Samantha Murray, Frejya Prentice, and Mhairi Spence all competing for the two spots.

2008 Olympic Gold Medalist Lena Schoneborn of Germany

It’s a shame that all fans don’t have the privilege of watching an Olympic sport in person.  While there have been great advances in television, nothing compares to seeing these athletes up closer and in the flesh doing what they love.  Two gold medalists, Andrei Moiseev and Lena Schoneborn were in front of me!  And while Moiseev didn’t have the usual successful competition (He failed to make the finals.), Schoneborn showed me why she’s the defending gold medalist.  With a tall, lean stature and broad shoulders, she is the poster child of athleticism.

I wasn’t just in awe of being in these athletes’ and coaches’ presence.  I was in awe as I watched the entire competition unfold.  Memories of the event keep flashing before me over a week later:  My arrival and seeing a coach carefully inspect a laser gun packed in its carrying case…the Ukrainian and Belarusian coaches screaming incomprehensible words of advice to their athletes running the 3,000 meters…athletes munching on granola in between fencing rounds…the chaotic clank of epees…the screams of both victors and the defeated…the drum of horses’ hooves…the chiseled physique of swimmers diving into the pool….They are wonderful memories I keep replaying over and over.

Chloe Esposito of Australia made good time, with Samantha Murray and Heather Fell close behind her.

Much attention is given to Decathletes, Heptathletes, and Triathletes.  Unlike those, Modern Pentathlon incorporates a wider variety of skills, and equipment.  Therefore, it requires training in multiple fields that are quite different from each other.  These Pentathletes aren’t just training inside the pool or on the track.  They’re training behind a mask with the epee.  They’re in the water swimming laps.  They’re running on rugged terrain over hills and valleys, target shooting with pistols for accuracy.  They’re riding a horse, mastering the ability to control the animal and jump effortlessly over a series of varied obstacles in a short amount of time.  Furthermore, this event was not only created by Pierre de Coubertin himself, but was inspired by the Pentathlon from the Ancient Greek Olympics.

And this competition isn’t over in a matter of a few hours.  The (finals) competition takes all day to complete.  Athletes who make it to final event are fencing, where they face every single one of their competitors in their group; then swimming 200 meters for the fastest time;  next, jumping on an unfamiliar horse which they must learn to control and direct over obstacles, racing against the clock; and finally, run 3,000 meters while stopping every 1,000 meters to fire a pistol, unable to resume running until they hit every single target with accuracy.   Are you tired yet?

The winner Schoneborn and second place Spence congratulate each other with a high-five.

As if this wasn’t enough to convert any naysayer, I was so impressed with the level of good sportsmanship amongst athletes and coaches.  Perhaps the atmosphere is different when the stakes are higher (i.e.,  Olympics); but during the competition which I attended, fellow competitors from different countries were talking to each other in between events; high-fiving each other before and after races; and for those who weren’t competing in a heat, they were cheering words of encouragement to those that are normally a direct competitor.  As Coubertin’s photo appeared on the small JumboTron in Legion Memorial Stadium, I said to myself, “He must be so proud.”

Third confession:  Modern Pentathletes not only have my love, but they have earned my utmost respect for their skill, athleticism, and dedication to sport.

Swifter, Higher, Stronger.

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3 Comments

Filed under Pentathlon

3 responses to “Modern Pentathlon and Confessions From The Olympic Fanatic

  1. Susan

    Fascinating! How cool that our own Olympic Fanatic was there up close and personal to tell us all about it!

  2. Joey

    So cool! I was able to get modern pentathlon tickets at the London games this year so I can’t wait! True, part of the reason I got them was availability and the other reason is cost. The prices for gymnastics, swimming, and athletics were just insane for the average fan like me. Can’t wait to see modern pentathlon in person and get access to aquatics centre, copper box, and greenwich park all for one affordable price of 75 pounds! Oh and general admission seating too! :O)

    • Thanks for the great comments, Joey! You will LOVE Modern Pentathlon! Are you going to men’s or women’s events? You’ll have to write again and tell me all about it. I’m always excited to talk about the Olympics with other fans and fanatics, so let’s keep in touch! HAVE FUN at the games!

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