Olympic Gold medalist swimmer-turned-world champion triathlete Sheila Taormina recently announced that she will be leaving the world of triathlon to try her hand at making the 2008 Olympics is a third sport, that of Modern Pentathlon.
Which begs the questions:
1) What the heck is Modern Pentathlon?
2) Why is it an Olympic Sport?
3) What was the Ancient Pentathlon and?
4) Why is Sheila Taormina switching sports?
To answer these questions I turned to Google and got an easy answers to the first question: “Modern pentathlon combines shooting, fencing (one duel against every other competitor), riding, swimming (200-meter freestyle) and running (3,000 meters) — all in one day”
I suppose Ancient Pentathlon must have combined the “sports” of cannon shooting, jousting, chariot racing, lion fighting and elephant head stomping---all in one day. Now that’s a sport, if televised by Fox, might actual surpass stock car racing as America’s fastest growing past time. Cable channels would kill to have it on. Every channel from Animal Planet to OLN to the ESPN to the History Channel would love to broadcast the thrill of victory to the agony of defeat of the Ancient Pentathlon.
And unlike current OLN triathlon television coverage, you really wouldn’t need to spice up the sport with all those human interest stories. Let's face it there’s nothing more thrilling than seeing an exciting chariot race followed by the potential of a rousing elephant head stomping.
Now the second question (Why is it an Olympic Sport?) took a bit more digging but I found the answer on the Olympics web site. The sport has an interesting and noble history. According to the official Olympic web site:
“A young French cavalry officer of the 19th century was sent on horseback to deliver a message. He rode across the uneven terrain, through enemy lines, and was confronted by a soldier with his sword drawn. Challenged to a duel, the officer won, only to have his horse shot out from under him by another enemy soldier.
After felling that soldier with a single shot, the officer ran on. He swam across a raging river, and then finally he delivered the message. So, legend has it, was born the modern pentathlon.
The brainchild of Baron Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the modern Olympic Games, the event was based upon the unlucky officer and introduced into the Stockholm Games of 1912. Only remotely resembling the ancient pentathlon inspired by the warmongering Spartans, modern pentathletes shoot, fence, swim, compete in show jumping and run - five events testing endurance as well as athletic versatility.”
So the truth comes out. The reason Modern Pentathlon is still an Olympic sport is because the French founder of the Olympics fancied the sport. Talk about a sport with connections in high places.
Image the story behind the Ancient Pentathlon. A young Spartan foot solider was sent on horseback to deliver a message when he encountered the black knight who challenged him to a joust. After skewing the knight like a toasted lamb shish kabob, he tethered his horse to a chariot. But this was his unlucky day. A lion jumped out of the forest and chased after him for just over 26.2 miles at which point he shot the lion with a cannon, only to be captured, buried up to his neck, and almost have his head stomped by a wild elephant stampede.
I bet you can guess at the answer to the fourth question: Why is Sheila Taormina switching to the modern Pentathlon? Because she can, and because she most likely believes that she can leverage her running and swimming skills to have a chance at a medal in this “Modern” sport.
I’m sure that it does not hurt her chances that the world of the modern pentathlon athlete is miniscule, at least in comparison to some of the other more popular Olympic sports. How many people do you really suppose participate in and follow the sport of modern pentathlon? Fifty or sixty? And most of them probably attend West Point or the French equivalent.
Being on the wrong side of 40 I have to respect Sheila’s spirit for trying, and I wish her all the best of luck. For her and all of us older athletes I would kindly suggest another Olympic sport that we can still tackle. In fact we are just approaching the ideal age for this sport and many of us, including Sheila, can not only excel but even medal in this very ancient sport . I am of course referring to the ancient sport of Curling. Once again from the Olympic web site:
“Curling originated in the 16th century in Scotland, where games were played during winter on frozen ponds, lochs and marshes. In the early days of the sport, stones were taken from river bottoms. In the 1600s, stones with handles were introduced, allowing a delivery style similar to what is used today.
The key developments in the sport in the 20th century have been the standardisation of the stone and the use of indoor, refrigerated ice facilities.”
So Sheila just remember if the Modern Pentathlon thing does not go your way, the Winter games are just two years away. I’m sure that you, like most of us, have a broom in the closet and we could find a big stone or two.
With a bit of practice and a little luck you could end up competing in 4 Olympic sports. I know that when I’m finishished with all this triathlon biz, I’ll seriously think about moving to Canada. I’m sure that I would be one of the most fit Curlers North of Detroit...and that’s got to be worth something.