Modern pentathlon was in jeopardy long before a horse was struck. How do you update it? | Olympic games

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Olympic Games | The Guardian

now Here is a fascinating suggestion for Guardian readers, a letter from Maj. Gen. EHH Allenby, Inspector of the Cavalry, aka Bloody Bull, on behalf of the British Olympic Council, published Thursday, 7th Team in the new Olympic discipline, Modern Pentathlon at the Berlin Games in 1916. “The competition consists of the following five competitions,” explained Allenby, “Revolver or pistol shooting at an integer decimal target, distance, 25m, swimming, 300m free style, fencing, weapon; Epee, cross-country riding, 5,000 m, cross-country running, 4,000 m. ”Tried?

The Guardian, it must be said, did not deal much with modern pentathlon back then. The very first competition, at the Stockholm Games in 1912, made just a single line at the foot of an article about the ongoing controversy in the Olympic tug of war in which the “redoubtable British team” from among the City of London Police were disqualified as being they fell in a heap because they lost their footing. But the new sport was a striking idea, conceived by the founder of the International Olympic Committee, Pierre de Coubertin, “to test a man’s moral qualities as well as his physical resources and abilities”. The winner should be “the ideal, complete athlete”.

De Coubertin modeled it after the “romantic rough adventures” of a cavalry officer trying to get a message across from behind enemy lines. “His horse is brought down in hostile territory; After defending himself with gun and sword, he swims across a raging river and delivers his message on foot. which will turn the event into an armed triathlon and inevitably take the whole “rough and romantic” aspect of it, turning the event into the daring adventure of an officer caught in an apartment. Sharpe’s puncture.

Fencers taking part in the first Olympic pentathlon at the 1912 Stockholm Summer GamesFencers taking part in the first modern Olympic pentathlon at the 1912 Stockholm Summer Games. Photo: Alamy

The horses have always been a problem. In 1912, De Coubertin was apparently “very angry” because the Swedes expected all participants in “his baby” to bring their own rides. De Coubertin had already had to give up the idea of ​​including a rowing race as one of the five disciplines because it would have made the organization “even more difficult” and, as he admitted, “it was already quite complicated enough”. . Now that. He insisted that participants couldn’t be expected to bring their own mounts, so the only solution was for the athletes to get them from a horse pool provided by the hosts. It has always been like this.

Strangely enough, it has become one of the defining features of the event. The task of taking a strange new horse and leading it through the course after 20 minutes of preparation is one of the most unpredictable of any Olympic event, and there are countless stories that competitors have foiled after four years of dedicated training because of the misfortune of pulling a sullen and unwilling whiners. It is an extreme test of horsemanship. They suspect old EHH Allenby, known for being blown out of control when his junior officers shared their infinitives and once exploded in anger when he saw a corpse without the mandatory pewter helmet, would agree.

It is all the more surprising that sport has long been turning in circles on this argument. Legendary Jim Fox, who won 76 team gold for Great Britain at Montreal, has been an advocate for years. “In my day, I argued that they should have swapped the horse for a motorcycle,” Fox told the Guardian in 1992, “but they didn’t like the idea of ​​motorized assistance in the Olympics. Why not a mountain bike? ”At that time, the modern pentathlon was threatened by De Coubertin’s successor, Juan Antonio Samaranch, who wanted to replace it with a sport that was actually practiced, such as golf or tennis.

A modern equestrian pentathlon at the 1932 Olympic Games in Los AngelesA modern pentathlon who competed in equestrian sports at the 1932 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. Photo: Universal History Archive / Universal Images Group / Getty Images

In the end, the UIPM canceled its team event, introduced a women’s competition and shortened the event from four days. Samaranch was still determined to dispose of it. Then they made him vice president of the governing body, which seemed to solve the problem. He was even inducted into the Modern Pentathlon Hall of Fame for his “relentless efforts to modernize the sport,” which curiously describes his repeated attempts to kill him. But the sport is still struggling to justify its place in the Olympic program, which is why the cross-country and the shooting phase have been combined into one event.

It survives in large part because of the IOC’s own sense of tradition and the support of a handful of influential administrators. Even they might have a hard time saving it from the reputational damage caused by the sight of a respected coach slapping one of the horses in Tokyo this summer. And really, the sport is overdue for a renewal before it goes the way of bike polo, ballooning, tug of war and all the other dead Olympic events.

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The five events they selected more than a century ago are so antiquated today that they mislead the modern age. If the IOC is to save them, it is not the original disciplines that count, but the spirit in which they were chosen and the idea that they should be a test of moral qualities, physical resources and abilities. So here’s another suggestion for Guardian readers: A century later, what are the five events that should go into a truly modern pentathlon?

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