Modern pentathlon votes to swap horse riding with obstacles
November 22, 2022 7:48 AM   Subscribe

In the wake of a coach being ejected from the Olympics in Tokyo for punching a horse, UIPM (the governing body of modern pentathlon) has voted to replace show jumping with a Sasuke-style obstacle course (a.k.a. American Ninja Warrior) following the 2024 Games in Paris. The change does not come without controversy, as several national governing bodies accuse the UIPM of violating its own rules regarding changes to the sport.

The sport of modern pentathlon was originally devised as a simulation of the athletic feats necessary for a cavalry soldier trapped behind enemy lines -- fencing with an "enemy", swimming 200 meters (meant to represent a river crossing), riding an unfamiliar horse for 5 kilometers (meant to represent stealing the horse), and a combined 3200-meter run with four pistol-shooting stops (a la biathlon). The horse-stealing event was changed to show jumping over 12 obstacles as of the 1988 Olympics, albeit still with an unfamiliar horse, which the pentathlete had 20 minutes to make friends with.
posted by Etrigan (31 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
Well, I have it on good authority - Mike Grell's 1983 comic book series, Jon Sable Freelance - that the event was originally designed as a training regimen for military couriers, not officers trapped behind enemy lines. Jon Sable was a competitor in Modern Pentathlon at the 1972 Munich Olympics, so he would know. He was inspired to become a James Bond-esque freelance mercenary for good by the violence there. (His family's murder by poachers in Zimbabwe played a part as well.)

That said, while I hate to think Jon Sable Freelance is not a reliable historical source, that doesn't explain why it has to be an unfamiliar horse. A courier would presumably have his own horse quite familiar with the conditions under which secret documents were carried.

And I also have it on good authority - the 2006 James Bond film Casino Royale - that parkour is a more useful ability for operatives trying to escape pursuers in the present day than equestrian skill, so I'm okay with this.
posted by Naberius at 8:05 AM on November 22 [15 favorites]


I've actually competed in modern pentathlon (not at the olympic level) and I have mixed feelings about this.

I enjoyed the genuine historical continuity to the first modern games (even if they have changed the equestrian event before) and the genuine combination of thematically linked events. On the other hand, the standard of riding among pentathletes is often not great and the combination of that with a random horse has always seemed strange. I think they could have done a lot of good just removing that element of randomness.

While one can hardly go around punching horses when frustrated, the fact that years of training can be completely derailed by an uncooperative horse that you had no role training or choosing does lead to feelings of a complete lack of control and I could well imagine the extremes of emotion that would come from that kind of frustration.

Like many people who have competed at lower levels, my primary events were fencing and shooting. Many Eastern European fencing coaches (i.e. a lot of them!) will have participated in modern pentathlon as athletes so letting slip to your fencing coach that you have a target pistol will get you recruited to participate in lower level events. I used to swim competitively as well so I was a relatively decent swimmer by modern pentathlon standards even though as one of my serious swimmer friends put it, "you swim badly even by the standards of triathletes".

Overall it's probably a good-thing and will prevent the otherwise likely disappearance of the event from the Olympics. I do think that the obstacle course, similar to the show jumping, will deter casual entry by really serious competitors from fencing or shooting due to the risk of injury. (Serious swimmers and runners have never competed in Modern Pentathlon because the sponsorship and other opportunities are so much better that they would have to be completely insane to risk injury this way and the depth of talent pool in those sports is so deep that they have to remain laser focused to remain competitive so they're not going to train in additional sports and put their place on the swim team at risk).
posted by atrazine at 8:28 AM on November 22 [19 favorites]


years of training can be completely derailed by an uncooperative horse

Life lessons from MetaFilter.
posted by The Bellman at 8:35 AM on November 22 [18 favorites]


If it weren't for my horse, I wouldn't have spent that year in college.
posted by Naberius at 8:42 AM on November 22 [22 favorites]


As a history nerd, I love the idea of the modern pentathlon. But I have also dreamed of a contemporary updated version, and wondered what the equivalent events would be. But maybe we could go full-on silliness and make it into a mockery of action movies ca. 2010. Ninja warrior course is solid. Riding an unfamiliar and poorly maintained 50cc moped through an urban course involving stairs. Replace the fencing with a fight using improbably oversized prop weapons, where you are judged on style more than landing touches. For the aquatic event, shark-jumping.
posted by agentofselection at 9:54 AM on November 22 [19 favorites]


that doesn't explain why it has to be an unfamiliar horse. A courier would presumably have his own horse

My own extensive and impeccable historical knowledge, which comes from reading Alexander Dumas novels, lets me solve this conundrum: A courier going all out would of course be swapping horses quite frequently, tiring one out and replacing them at the next inn or carriage stop.
posted by mark k at 9:58 AM on November 22 [17 favorites]


A soldier trapped behind enemy lines would need to be very lucky above all else, so I think it's entirely appropriate for one event to be a measure of luck.
posted by Pyry at 10:01 AM on November 22 [5 favorites]


Just replace the fifth event with a performance of Richard III and be done with it.
posted by The Bellman at 10:05 AM on November 22 [13 favorites]


Any argument that relies on Jon Sable Freelance as a primary source will get a favourite from me.

Admittedly, this doesn't come up a lot on MetaFilter, but one has to be true to one's principles.
posted by bonehead at 10:13 AM on November 22 [5 favorites]


Is this where I post my pitch for a reboot of Flash Gordon?

Flash is a gold medalist in modern pentathlon—he runs, he swims, he rides, he shoots, and he fences. He is introduced being interviewed by journalist Dale Arden outside a meeting of the IOC where they've voted to remove his event from the Olympics. What will become of his (rather archaic, she teases him) sport now? What will he do with his esoteric and now obsolete skill set?

They board a plane back to the U.S. together as strange storm clouds gather on the horizon...
posted by The Tensor at 10:20 AM on November 22 [15 favorites]


While one can hardly go around punching horses when frustrated, the fact that years of training can be completely derailed by an uncooperative horse that you had no role training or choosing does lead to feelings of a complete lack of control and I could well imagine the extremes of emotion that would come from that kind of frustration.

Let me offer a perspective from a more-equestrian viewpoint: Largely, olympic pentathalon athletes have NO BUSINESS being on the horses because, and I want to be absolutely clear about this, they can't ride well enough to pilot the horses correctly around the course.

Learning to ride acceptably for the jumping course in the pentathalon takes more time, money, and effort than many pentathalon competitors are willing or able to devote to the project. The horses that are selected are SELECTED to "jump, no matter what" and when they refuse to do ANYTHING (eg. Saint Boy with Annika aboard) they have sometimes already been ridden, incompetently, by several pentathletes and are DONE WITH THIS BS.

For anyone who rides regularly, competes regularly, or has any eye for what a reasonably capable riding looks like, the equestrian portion of the pentathalon is eyebleedingly horrific. In this thread you can read what equestrian people think of the equestrian portion of the pentathalon. If you have no time, the tl:dr is "The horses are saints, those folks can't ride and have no business jumping 1.20M, why can't they stop doing this at the Olympics?"
posted by which_chick at 10:41 AM on November 22 [21 favorites]


Possibly the second best option, behind my preferred choice of them doing a random draw of the five events out of all those in that Olympics. Complete lucky dip. Do you get table tennis, pole vault, diving, BMX and archery or the killer combo of boxing , taekwondo, judo, weight lifting and shot put etc.
posted by Hartster at 10:43 AM on November 22 [13 favorites]


Did someone say "citation needed?"

...anyone?

Well here it is anyway.
posted by Naberius at 10:51 AM on November 22 [2 favorites]


It represented stealing a horse? Not just being issued one by some Hobson of the ranks? This is so charming I don’t really believe it, but I do not wish to learn otherwise.

(Can it be traced to a particular adventure novel? Almost Jeffery Farnol, except that he would have included boxing. Kipling? Dumas? Scott?)
posted by clew at 10:54 AM on November 22


Riding an unfamiliar and poorly maintained 50cc moped through an urban course involving stairs. Replace the fencing with a fight using improbably oversized prop weapons, where you are judged on style more than landing touches. For the aquatic event, shark-jumping.


And for the finale: walking away from an explosion without looking back.
posted by USERNAME EXCEEDS MAXIMUM LENGT- at 10:55 AM on November 22 [18 favorites]


Infiltration, Sniping, Hacking, Safecracking, Demolitions.
posted by Faint of Butt at 11:09 AM on November 22 [5 favorites]


Horses at high levels of show jumping and other equestrian events are so expensive and highly trained that actually the idea of "you say you're a great rider, but can you ride *any* horse?" sounds like a pretty fun and equalizing event. But the way pentathlon works doesn't accomplish testing that - getting a random horse and one attempt mostly just tests luck. Maybe some kind of rotation over multiple days to see who can get the best results with each horse...
posted by allegedly at 11:16 AM on November 22 [1 favorite]


In the wake of a coach being ejected from the Olympics in Tokyo for punching a horse

Coach only pawn in game of life.
posted by Splunge at 11:36 AM on November 22 [11 favorites]


Infiltration, Sniping, Hacking, Safecracking, Demolitions.

Demolitions!
posted by The Tensor at 11:36 AM on November 22 [1 favorite]


I don't think the aspect of riding an unfamiliar horse is in itself problematic - this is how collegiate equestrian competitions are usually run. The difference is that those the competitors are a lot more accomplished riders than many pentathletes seem to be.
posted by GeorgeBickham at 11:49 AM on November 22 [3 favorites]


I will admit that I have a somewhat irrational hatred of the sport, stemming from when the IOC put wrestling on the chopping block - a sport I competed in while in high school, and which was one of the original five sports from the ancient Games - as part of a proposal to "simplify" the Games. This decision was considered so asinine that when reinstatement was put up for the sport, the reaction was "of course we're reinstating wrestling, we're not idiots."

So, how is modern pentathlon involved? Well when the IOC floated the idea of removing events, the short list contained it as well - and most observers expected it to be the one chosen for removal for many of the reasons listed above. But the sport had an ace in the hole - one of the members of the sport's governing authority was the son of the corrupt then-head of the IOC. So of course it was never seriously considered, as opposed to a sport competed in across the world, with a lineage stretching back millennia.
posted by NoxAeternum at 12:07 PM on November 22 [6 favorites]


While one can hardly go around punching horses when frustrated
--atrazine

My understanding is that it wasn't frustration. He considered punching the horse as a normal part of the training process. His frustration was that his athlete wasn't hitting the horse enough.
posted by eye of newt at 12:31 PM on November 22


I am absolutely in agreement that the show jumping portion of modern pentathalon was due for a change. I think it would have been interesting to have switched it to some sort of variation on Working Equitation rather than jumping. WE is a an equestrian event is a newer discipline that is quickly gaining popularity and is absolutely in keeping with the spirit of the pentathalon--even though it was designed to reflect the skills needed to work cattle on Spanish ranches, it actually better reflects the sort of skills you would have needed as a mounted military officer than does show jumping (I suspect the only reason that show jumping even wound up as part of the modern pentathalon is because many successful international show jumpers "back in the day" were military officers, and hence the ties between the two were strong). However, a poor performance (either due to poor riding or a horse having a bad day) simply results in a slower time and is far less likely than show jumping to end in injuries and abuse.
posted by drlith at 12:37 PM on November 22 [4 favorites]


soldier trapped behind enemy lines

Oh do Top Gun: Maverick style - fastest time to get an unfamiliar airplane in the air and escape the airspace wins the event
posted by inflatablekiwi at 1:02 PM on November 22


I don't know, I think that horse riding is sufficiently expensive and a pain in the ass to train for that incorporating it into any generalist sport is a recipe for disaster. I love watching equitation and good riding as much as the next overgrown horse girl, but I think handing indifferent animal handlers responsibility for running an animal through a course is a recipe for frustration and, yeah, probably bad treatment. I don't think I want anyone in an animal sport that doesn't actually enjoy working with the species in question for its own sake, you know?
posted by sciatrix at 1:11 PM on November 22 [2 favorites]


It's hard to believe this decision is because of one rider hitting their horse. There must be other similar situations or circumstances that have lead to this. Maybe they believe the number of people watching will increase if they have an American Ninja Warrior type event? It's all about staying relevant.
posted by Rashomon at 1:27 PM on November 22


It's all about staying relevant.

Again, it once was on the chopping block, it got saved through naked corruption, and the backlash to that was such that if it winds up on the chopping block again, it won't get a second reprieve.
posted by NoxAeternum at 2:45 PM on November 22


If they do cut this event, maybe they'll finally bring back plunge for distance. I mean for the sheer drama of human competition...
posted by Naberius at 3:23 PM on November 22 [5 favorites]


Metafilter: Completely derailed by an uncooperative horse
posted by Thorzdad at 5:59 AM on November 23 [2 favorites]


I was hoping the change would lead to obstacle courses for horses.
posted by Gray Duck at 8:38 AM on November 23


I was hoping the change would lead to obstacle courses for horses.

You might like eventing, which has been an Olympic sport since 1912 and also came out of calvary skills.
posted by sepviva at 1:51 PM on November 23 [1 favorite]


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