LANE ONE: Modern Pentathlon to replace riding after Tokyo embarrassment, but with what?

(Errata: Reader Paul Roberts notes that the yesterday’s item about the European audience for the Tokyo Games for EuroSport was incomplete: it was 372 million. Thanks for the sharp eyes!)

“The news is that a consultation process will soon begin work on identifying a suitable replacement for Riding.

“First, we know that this information will be surprising and even shocking to you. It is not very long since we made a commitment to review and protect the Riding discipline in the wake of the rescheduled Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. But life within the Olympic movement changes fast. While our sport is confirmed for Paris 2024 with our exciting new format in place (including Riding), Los Angeles 2028 is a different matter and we must be flexible and embrace change once again.”

That’s from an open letter to modern pentathletes from the Executive Board of the Union Internationale de Pentathlon Moderne (UIPM), the sport’s international federation. Erroneous reports had claimed that cycling would be announced as the replacement for riding, but instead, the UIPM announced that its Executive Board had agreed to recommendations from UIPM Innovation Commission from its meeting in the last week of October.

Riding was decided to be removed after the embarrassing incident during the Tokyo Games in which German coach Kim Raisner punched the horse Saint Boy when it would not complete the Show Jumping course with German medal contender Annika Schleu. In the Modern Pentathlon, horses are provided by the organizers and the ability of the athlete to be able to work with a strange horse is part of the event.

A “consultation process” will begin to identify a new discipline to replace riding for the 2028 Los Angeles Games; the sport is projected to be held at the Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, California in the southwest area of Los Angeles County. Ostensibly, the new format would debut not later than 2025.

UIPM President Klaus Schormann (GER), 75, at the helm of the federation since 1993 (!) has spent his career ensuring that Modern Pentathlon remains on the Olympic Program. It has been cited as a sport past its time and its existence is dependent on the television rights share it receives from the International Olympic Committee. In the only financial statement ever made public, the UIPM’s 2018 financial review showed $12.95 million from the IOC in 2016 and 2017, but only $600-700,000 in other annual revenues; it spent about $4.2 million a year from 2016-18.

Said Schormann in today’s announcement, in part:

“On behalf of the UIPM Executive Board I ask our global community to embrace change and grasp the momentous opportunity before us. A new discipline will provide fresh impetus to our sport and strengthen the position of Modern Pentathlon within the Olympic movement.

“The Modern Pentathlon will remain a five-discipline sport and will continue to provide the ultimate moral and physical examination of an athlete, as Coubertin envisaged.”

The sport was introduced by modern Games founder Baron Pierre de Coubertin (FRA) for the 1912 Games in Stockholm and included the then-important disciplines for soldiering: fencing, swimming, shooting, horsemanship and running. Actual shooting was replaced with a laser device in 2010 and the shooting and run phases were combined in 2009 with the “laser run” introduced in 2013.

There has been considerable discussion about whether having the shooting and running together actually makes the event a “quadrathlon.” Now, the replacement for horsemanship will be determined by discussions which consider 13 criteria listed by the Innovation Commission.

These include being quick, so as to be part of the new 90-minute final, fit within the new “Pentathlon Stadium” concept, be low-cost and easy for current athletes to adapt to, not fall within the purview of another International Federation (like cycling) and “Be attractive and relevant for global youth and future generations.”

Given the inclusion of digital technology in today’s militaries, sounds like the opening for eSports in the Olympic program, yes? After all, isn’t Laser Shooting already essentially digital? Is this the IOC’s opportunity (via the UIPM) to create a bridge to the eSports community?

Given Schormann’s 28-year effort to protect the inclusion of Modern Pentathlon in the Games, there can be little doubt that the elimination of riding was made in close consultation with the International Olympic Committee. However, even the installation of a new discipline will raise questions about the sport and its future on the Olympic program:

● Why does a sport which has just two events, a total of 72 athletes and just three days to complete require its own venue, with the attendant costs, including a temporary swimming pool?

● With the elimination of horses, why isn’t the event held – at the Games – near the swimming venue?

● If the replacement discipline for riding can be determined in the next few months, why not implement it immediately, include it in the 2022 World Cup circuit, 2022 World Championships and the 2024 Games in Paris?

● Why continue to include riding when it only reminds Olympic-sport insiders of the Tokyo incident?

● If this is the modern “pentathlon” and as the laser shooting is already a digitized event, why not separate the running and “shooting” so there really are five distinct events? The event can still be held over two days and will actually make better sense to spectators.

On the sidelines of the Modern Pentathlon discussion, there are continuing worries in the Equestrian community about its Olympic future. It seems secure at present and the horses in that sport are as much the stars as the riders, traveling with them and endlessly pampered to ensure their health, stability and relationship with their rider. But it is a sport which seems to some to be a little outdated, as are some of the other Olympic sports with very modest participation on a worldwide basis and modest interest from television viewers at the Games. Equestrian is in the fourth group (of five) in terms of its television share from the IOC, with Modern Pentathlon in the lowest group, along with new sports Golf and Rugby.

This is a big moment for the UIPM, its athletes and for Schormann. If it makes the right moves, it will make itself more attractive to future competitors, and the eSports lure might be too strong to resist. If it misses the mark, it may not make it to Los Angeles in 2028.

Rich Perelman

You can receive our exclusive TSX Report by e-mail by clicking here. You can also refer a friend by clicking here, and can donate here to keep this site going.

For our 743-event International Sports Calendar for 2021 and beyond, by date and by sport, click here!