Horse sacrifice shakes the foundations of the modern pentathlon
It is a good question to test a family member in this meeting. Christmas: What five disciplines is the modern pentathlon made of? The correct answer, for more than a century, is fencing, Equestrian jumping, swimming, cross country race Y pistol shooting. From 2023, however, the answer will be different and it is not yet clear which one. Because it's already decided that the equestrian show will be extirpated of the modern pentathlon, but it remains to be elucidated which sport will replace it, as published The newspaper of Spain.
The traumatic decision was made a few days ago at the assembly of the International Union of Modern Pentathlon (UIPM) by a overwhelming majority of about 85%, although with the opposition of some of the most important federations, such as the United Kingdom (winner of the two Olympic golds in Tokyo), Hungary (the most awarded ever) and the Czech Republic.
The totally radical change is given by the threat of International Olympic Committee (IOC) to exclude the modern pentathlon from the Olympic Games Los Angeles 2028. low audiences of sport, its low attractiveness for young audiences, the cost of equestrian jumping and a unpleasant incident in Tokyo 2020 with a horse are the main reasons behind this ordeal from Olympism to a sport that can hardly survive in most countries, including Spain, without an Olympic horizon.
We speak, in a national key, about Olympic sport with the fewest licenses in Spain, 441 according to the statistical report of the year 2020 of the Higher Council of Sports. Adding up the non-Olympic federations (68 in total), the only one that registers fewer licenses than the modern pentathlon is motonautica (jet ski racing), with 390, although in several of the previous years it has also been above. No Spanish pentathlete lives off his sporting activity.
"The decision was cut off an arm to try to survive or condemn yourself to die"The president of the Spanish federation, Carlos Jiménez del Castillo, explains to this newspaper." The tradition and identity of this sport have been charged by politics with the excuse that it continues to be Olympic, but it will no longer be so ", replicas the best Spanish pentathlete, Aleix Heredia. Both reflect the war that exists between leaders and athletes by the decision of sacrifice the horses more than a century after the creation of the sport.
It is precisely to start there. The modern pentathlon is a sport that devised by Baron Pierre de Coubertin, promoter of the modern Olympic Games. The French aristocrat understood that the union of the five disciplines in a single sport symbolized the Olympic spirit and the motto 'citius, altius, fortius'. In Stockholm 1912, the modern pentathlon debuted at the Games and has remained on the Olympic program in all the editions disputed since then and, at least, until Paris 2024.
Such is the weight of tradition that the international federation published on its website a statement from the descendants of the creator of the sport, giving the go-ahead for the renunciation of horse riding: "In one of his writings, Coubertin said that if he had to redoing what he did 100 years later, he would probably do it very differently, since he understood that adaptation was necessary to stay relevant with the spirit of each age. If today the equestrian is called to disappear, we believe that Coubertin would agree with a change towards a discipline that embodies the spirit of the modern pentathlon and modernizes the sport ".
It is, therefore, much more than a sport, as it is also represents an emotional and symbolic link with the history of Olympism. Reasons that, despite the many difficulties it has encountered over the decades, have allowed it to be untouchable among the sports that compete every four summers in the most important sporting event in the world.
That it was over after London 2012, when the IOC began to question the continuity of the sport that worst television audiences harvest edition after edition. Already then the substitution of the equestrian for the cycling, but the UIPM rejected the change and opted to maintain the five traditional disciplines, although compressing the calendar to try to make it a more attractive and dynamic sport for spectators. Until then, the tests were carried out in four days and began to be compressed in a day and a half.
The competition system has evolved, especially since Barcelona 1992. Currently, on the first day, the 36 competitors (may be less) face each other in a free-for-all format in one-touch epee fencing. The second begins with a 200-meter swim, continues with the equestrian jumps and then a new fencing competition in elimination format (the last and penultimate beginnings and they are incorporated one by one, up to the leader, as the eliminations occur). The competition closes with a combination of running and shooting, called laser run: four laps of an 800-meter circuit, with the obligation to hit a target with an electronic pistol five times between each lap.
Now, ahead of Paris 2024, the format has been further compressed, performing the four tests on the second day in just an hour and a half, with a 15-minute break between one and the other, a format that athletes dislike, who understand that there is no time to warm up properly before each test, since they also have to make trips between venues at that time.
But that change has not been enough to secure the confidence of the IOC for Los Angeles 2028. "The modern pant needs to replace horse racing and demonstrate a significant reduction in cost and complexity to get closer to the general public and especially young people ", warned in the form of an ultimatum a few days ago the president of the IOC, Thomas Bach, after postponing to 2023 the final decision on whether or not the modern pentathlon remains within the Olympic calendar . Surfing, climbing and skateboarding they did see their continuity confirmed, a symbol of the new times in Olympism.
There is the paradox that the equestrian event is the one with the best audiences of all the modern pentathlon ... but it is also the most expensive. In this sport, athletes do not compete with their own horse, but it is the organization that is in charge of providing them. They are raffled and each athlete has 20 minutes to become familiar with the animal before jumping with him obstacles that reach 120 centimeters. All the logistics involved in the horses can reach the 30,000 euros per competition. The animals are usually rented to riding schools or private riders.
"The truth is that it is an elitist sport that can hardly be practiced outside the western world and it is something that the IOC does not want to happen. This sport was created for the Games and lives by and for them. If we leave the Olympic program, the modern pentathlon will tend to debacle because the vast majority of UIPM's income comes from the IOC and the main incentive for practitioners is to be able to be Olympians one day. I come from the world of horsemanship, I have practiced dressage all my life, and for me it is an absolute pain to get rid of it. But either we changed or we died, or we kept riding or we tried to continue in the Games ", explains the president of the Spanish.
In Tokyo, with the debate already latent, it rained in the wet when a German trainer punched a horse that was not reacting to the indications of one of the competitors. The image of the Games was damaged and the incident served as a final trigger for the ultimatum of the IOC to the international federation. The UIPM has already set up working groups to decide which will be the fifth discipline from the next Olympic cycle, a decision that will be final at the end of next year after carrying out different tests. Having discarded the option of cycling due to its duration and physical demand, the alternatives with the greatest possibilities right now are climbing and the American track.
"Whatever they put, it will stop being a modern pentathlon, it will be another sport. If we are not capable of defending what we have, we are not going to be able to defend something that we believe in two days. If we load up on tradition we will have nothing left" , protests Heredia, the only Spanish representative of the discipline in Tokyo 2020. He, like himThe majority of athletes are radically against the renunciation of equestrian jumping: "It has been sold that it is the only way to stay alive, but I am sure that it will stop being an Olympian anyway. It is clear that the IOC wants to burden it."
His opinion is shared by, among many others, the current Olympic champion, the British Joe Choong, who recently told the 'Daily Mail' that he would abandon the practice of the modern pentathlon if show jumping was eliminated. "Perhaps the greatest merit of the modern pentathlon is being able to overcome 1.20 meter obstacles with a horse you just met," adds Heredia, who reproaches the international federation for having ignored the IOC's request to seek a solution discussed with athletes: "Nobody consults us anything. The president of the UIPM even told us that, if we did not want this, the young boys would want it, who in a few years would not know anything else".
"If the modern pentathlon is saved and continues in the Olympics it will be due to an almost political decision, out of respect for tradition. The argument of the audiences does not serve me, because then there would only be football or they would put Formula 1 Y MotoGP, to say something; Nor is it elitist, because sailing or equestrian itself is more so, in which each athlete needs their own horse, "Heredia continues.
"If we want to have options to continue in the Games, although no one can guarantee it to us, is what we have to do. Being an Olympian is what allows this sport to have an international circuit and sufficient funding to survive. I understand the athletes, because it is an irrecoverable loss and they see their position threatened, that is why it has been such a difficult decision to make, "Jiménez closes.
The horses have died. Long live the escalation. Or the American track. Or we'll see what. All for the Games.