21 May, 2014

On a really "modern" pentathlon

The readers of this blog have certainly noticed that I am particularly fond of combined events. It was thus natural to feel some attraction to what is called the Modern Pentathlon. However upon analysing the situation I soon reached the conclusion that the moniker “modern” is totally unwarranted: the modern pentathlon as we know it is something based on the military skills of the 19th (!) century. The fact that modern pentathlon is, at least to my eyes, a total miss (despite its Olympic status) leads naturally to the question: what would have been the right choice? 

Below I shall try to give my ideas on the matter. 

I do not have an objection to a combined event based on military skills. In fact the existing military pentathlon could offer a nice basis for building a civil one. The events of the military pentathlon are: target shooting, grenade throwing, obstacle swimming, obstacle course, cross. It's a really fine event (I know this from first-hand experience) and a perfect starting point for what I would like to propose. However it is necessary to de-militarise it slightly.

There are two precision events, target shooting and grenade throwing, something that is superfluous for a civil pentathlon. So, the idea would be to drop target shooting. After all it would be reminiscent of the existing “modern” pentathlon. It could be replaced by one more locomotion event, for instance in the form of cycling over a not perfectly flat terrain: mountain bikes is what I have in mind. Grenade throwing should also be replaced by something less military.

So my really modern pentathlon would consist in the following five events: obstacle course, obstacle swimming, cross, precision throwing and bike cross. All these disciplines do not require the special skills of the current modern pentathlon, like horse-riding or even fencing. Their techniques can be easily learned (and then one could take years to hone them to perfection). 

The current military pentathlon obstacle course is the perfect one to my eyes. Moreover it has one great advantage: one can, in a pinch, use existing military installations. For obstacle swimming I still prefer the military course over the life-saving one: there is more variety in the obstacles and speed is not the only important factor. 

The only event to specify further is the precision throwing event. I am in favour of such an event also because it does not require special equipment. The throwing implement I have in mind is a steel ball like the ones used in the french p├ętanque. They have a weight between 650 and 800 g. A weight of 700 g is comparable to a competition javelin weight and would be perfectly adequate. For the military precision throwing the throwing range is organised in the form of a sector with target circles. 

It is not clear which features of this setup should be kept in a civil modern pentathlon. In fact the military grenade throwing  has two parts: precision and distance. Should we add also a distance throwing to the precision event? I do not have clear ideas on this point.

In any case a civil pentathlon built upon the present military one would be a great event, far better than the current modern pentathlon or the absurdity that is known under the name of triathlon. (Do not get me wrong. I have a great respect for something like the Ironman. I could even understand a combined event based solely upon locomotion. What irks me is the fact that there is no break between swimming, cycling and running: changing clothes and shoes is made part of the competition itself. This is what I deem absurd).

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