After a horse-punching scandal, will cycling be added to the modern pentathlon?
Spoiler: you can still punch a bike.
Spoiler: you can still punch a bike.
Hey, remember modern pentathlon, that sport we all know and love? The fringe five-sports-in-one-day event that combines fencing, horse riding, laser shooting, running, and swimming (although sadly not all at once)?
Good; I’ll proceed.
As a fan of the sport, you’ll recall the notorious incident at the Tokyo Olympics where the horse Saint-Boy – ridden by German athlete Annika Schleu – was punched by German coach Kim Raisner. That sparked a global kerfuffle at the time, and in the months since has brought modern pentathlon to the brink of crisis. And fair enough, because you probably shouldn’t punch a horse, especially when that punch is internationally televised.
There have been secret meetings. There have been leaked documents. There have been newspaper exclusives. All signs point to horse riding being chopped from the modern pentathlon, with numerous media outlets reporting that cycling will replace it. The modern pentathletes aren’t happy, and the reigning men’s Olympic champ Joe Choong has said that “If it changed to cycling, I wouldn’t be in the sport.”
All of which is indicative of a level of inter-organisational chaos that I find, personally, irresistible.
But it also raises the tantalising question: in the wide spectrum of popular (and unpopular) cycling disciplines, what type of cycling will end up in the modern pentathlon? Will pentathletes be required to become trials riders? Does this foreshadow a renaissance of artistic cycling? The long-awaited return of bicycle polo to Olympic competition?
Intrigued, I asked the International Modern Pentathlon Union (UIPM) for clarification about what discipline and duration of cycling. And then, bizarrely, they implied that cycling wouldn’t be making an appearance in modern pentathlon after all.
“We are not able to confirm or deny whether riding will be removed from modern pentathlon or not. However, it is untrue to say it will be replaced by cycling,” a UIPM representative told CyclingTips (their emphasis).
Now, that seems fairly unambiguous, and also suggests that CyclingTips has a global scoop. But just to be sure, I sent some follow-up questions, playing along with the hypothetical conceit that horse riding might not be axed (which it totally will be, on account of the Saint-Boy incident):
“That sounds pretty clear-cut, but just to be sure: if riding was removed, is cycling one of the sports being considered as a possible replacement? Or are the recent reports entirely inaccurate, and cycling isn’t in the mix at all?”
Which prompted a no-comment and an invitation to join the UIPM mailing list:
“I can’t give you any extra information at this stage. You will have the answers to your question tomorrow when we send our PR.”
The plot thickened further overnight with respected Olympics-based news site Inside the Games’ reporting of a leaked UIPM report that indicated that a proposed fifth discipline needed to be “low-cost, easily understandable, have minimal injury rates and not fall under another IOC-recognised Federation’s governance” – such as the UCI.
So who knows where we end up: perhaps an obscure cycling discipline that the UCI doesn’t have jurisdiction over? Perhaps the Olympic debut of the pogo stick? Perhaps it was all just an elaborate smoke-bomb from an UIPM steadfast in its love of the equine arts?
One thing is for sure: modern pentathlon is having a time of it, while we’ve got the popcorn ready and are excited to welcome modern pentathletes to the flock.
If they jump onto bikes. Which they either will, or won’t. Probably.
This story will be updated later today when it is true to say that riding will be replaced by cycling in the modern pentathlon, if riding is (or is not) removed as a discipline.