Cambridge sport focus: modern pentathlon

Emily Chadwick 7 November 2013

Competing in a sport at Blues-level is tough enough, but what about five at the same time? Modern pentathlon, 101 years old, aims to sculpt the perfect athlete, completing a 200m freestyle swim, a 12-obstacle show-jumping course (rider and steed are paired twenty minutes before the event), a round-robin fencing tournament, and four running laps of 800m interspersed with rounds of five laser-shooting targets.

It was created by Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympic games, to echo the rigorous mental and physical exertion of the traditional pentathlon but jazzing it up with a twentieth-century twist. Whilst fencing and horse-riding being in the mix might lead one to question the modernity, huge efforts have recently been made to keep it current.

It all kicked off in 1996 when the Union Internationale de Pentathlon Moderne changed the format so that instead of a five day competition, all five events would be completed in just one day (although at university level, this is normally over two days). Then in 2009, the pistol shooting and running events were cobbled together into a final combined event where points from the previous three convert into the start-delay of competitors in the last. The first person to cross the finishing line after 3200m wins overall.

The 2013 season saw a further tweak to the combined event in a hope to reinstate the importance of the shooting element by adding in another round of targets. With this far more exhilarating finale, the condensed format had great success in London 2012.

Although Cambridge did fantastically last year – the men’s and women’s first teams both putting in record-breaking results – the men narrowly lost in Varsity. Looking ahead to the current season, Myrtle remarked, “We had a solid performance at Varsity last year, recording some excellent performances under pressure. With four returning Blues athletes in the men’s team, we have the potential to improve on last year’s record team and beat Oxford.”