Summer Olympics Preview Part 1: Pentathlons, the Modern & Naked Kinds

[Editor’s Note: Now that I’ve found my obscure-sports guest blogger, Neil “nkilla” Gariepy, I’m ready to expand his role on the WBFF blog.  With the Summer Olympics less than four weeks away, nkilla and I will be previewing the London Games on a weekly basis.  There will be no rhyme or reason to what we talk about, and we will make absolutely no attempt to educate ourselves properly before throwing out wild theories and opinions.  The format of these Olympic blogs will be that of an email exchange between the two of us.  Basically one of us will ask a question via email to kickoff the conversation, and then we’ll trade emails back and forth until the topic has exhausted itself.  Sometimes that might be 15 emails; sometimes it might be one.  When we finally kill a topic, I’ll post the transcript as a new blog post.  Enjoy.]

From: Nkilla

To: Rmurdera

So I was doing some research for the Olympic preview at lunch today. Came across the event known as the Modern Pentathlon. I would like you to guess which five events make up the Modern Pentathlon. Don’t google it, just guess first. I feel like there should be a $10 million prize if you could somehow guess all five. It is probably worth $100 if you could even guess three of them.

From: Rmurdera

To: Nkilla

Off the top of my head:

-Steeple Chase
-Equestrian Jumping/Obstacle Course
-Joust?
-400M running
-Discus
As you can tell, I wouldn’t even stake $5 on me getting one of those correct.

From: Nkilla

To: Rmurdera

The actual answer is:
Fencing
Pistol Shooting
Show jumping (on a horse)
200m swim
3k run
How does someone become good at all five of those things?

From: Rmurdera

To: Nkilla

Better question than “how does someone become good at all five of those things?”….in which order does someone usually become good at each of these things?  Are there people who are good fencers, then they try shooting a pistol one day, discover they’re good at that, and then research what they can do to combine these two skills?  Leading them to have to get good at the other three events if they ever want to be relevant?

Is it people who are only mediocre at running and swimming, knowing they’ll never be able to compete with the best of the best in those individual events so they decide to learn the other events?

I think we track down the US team’s representatives of the pentathlon after the olympics and try to interview them to find out all the answers we’re seeking.

Seriously, which order do you think they get good at these things in?

From: Nkilla

To: Rmurdera

If I had to guess I would say you are good at the horse jumping and shooting first, then you add the other three things. And only because I can see some crazy scenario where people are riding through the woods on their horse shooting at foxes and they somehow realize they’re 40% of the way to being good at a sport.

But the real question is how did this even become a sport in the first place? Did this exact sequence of events happen enough times circa 1850 that it evolved into a sport:

Winston and Charles have an argument that results in a sword duel. After 10 minutes of dueling, Winston gets tired with the sword fight and decides to just shoot Charles. The authorities hear the gun shot which requires Winston to ride his horse through town while being chased. At some point Winston gets to a river, which his horse cannot cross, so he has to swim across. Once Winston makes it across the river, he needs to run a bit to create more distance if the authorities decide to cross the river after him.

Also, if this is the “modern” pentathlon, I can only imagine what made up the “ancient” pentathlon.

From: Rmurdera

To: Nkilla

Well thanks to google and wikipedia, you don’t need to imagine what made up the ancient version:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ancient_Olympic_pentathlon

Long Jump

Javelin

Discus

Stadion (short foot race)

Wrestling

At least a few of these events are actually somewhat related to each other (four of them being part of what we think “track & field” is).

Because the “ancient pentathlon” is so, um, ancient, there’s a lot of speculation around the origin, the order of the events, the scoring, etc.  But the historians seem to think that each of these events was thought to be useful in battle.  That’s the functional relevancy of the five being grouped together.  For the Modern Pentathlon, I like your Winston & Charles story as the reasoning for the five random events to be grouped together.

I’m really glad I read the entire wikipedia entry on the ancient pentathlon because the very last line says, “In the classical games, it was traditional for all of these events to be performed naked.”

I’d love to see the modern one performed naked…especially fencing.  I wonder how NBC would handle the broadcast and highlights of this event if that was the case.

Since you’re probably more on top of the TV schedule for this event and any significant rule changes for this year’s contest, why don’t you bring these emails to a close with some final thoughts and predictions.

From: Nkilla

To: Rmurdera

Apparently they are tweaking the format a little this year to make it more TV friendly. For the first three events (fencing, swim, horse jump) the athletes score various points based on how well they do. Based on their standings after that, they stagger the start for the combined run and shoot portion. So depending on scores in the first three events, the person in first place may have a three second head start for the run and shoot over the second place person, eight seconds over the third place person, and so on. The result is that the first person to cross the finish line at the end of the run and shoot is your gold medal winner. Obviously this works way better for TV because the average Winston sitting at home can tell who wins. A surprisingly logical move by the Olympic committee on this one. For those interested, the run and shoot part for the men should start around 10:45am on Saturday, August 11th, and 10:00am on Sunday, August 12th, for the women.

Do we think the USA has a chance in this obscure sport? Not likely. Currently, the highest-ranked US male in the world rankings is at number 40, and a US male has not medaled in the Modern Pentathlon since the 1960 games. Based on the current world rankings there is a good chance the men’s medals are going to go to some combination of the Russians and Hungarians. A US woman won a silver medal in this event in 2000, but the highest current world ranking for a US female is 41. For you degenerate gamblers out there, the men’s favorite (Andrei Moiseev) is at +250, so there does not seem to be a clear cut favorite on the men’s side. It is even less clear cut on the women’s side, as favorite Lena Schoneborn is at +350.

Final verdict: People should tune in for the 60-minute finale (the run and shoot portion) on the 11th and 12th. It should make for good television with an interesting finish. Bonus points if someone falls on their gun during the run and it goes off, or if they “accidentally” shoot a competitor in front of them.

Also, one reason to watch besides the competition: Chloe Esposito

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4 thoughts on “Summer Olympics Preview Part 1: Pentathlons, the Modern & Naked Kinds

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