Sadly, cycling won’t be in the modern pentathlon

Will horse riding be replaced with pillow fighting, motor cross or Ninja Warrior? We have the answers.

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Cast your mind back to the heady days of the 2020 (/2021) Tokyo Olympic Games. So many things happened – road cycling things, mountain bike things, even BMX things. But perhaps the most memorable cycling-adjacent thing was someone punching a horse in the modern pentathlon. 

Let me explain. Bikes were not a modern pentathlon discipline – and still aren’t – but the aftermath of the assault on German horse Saint-Boy brought cycling into the conversation.

Before a captive global audience, modern pentathlon started down the path towards a messy, public identity crisis. Spiralling, the governing body, the UIPM, looked into whether it liked being linked with coach-on-animal violence. Astonishingly, the answer was no – and so it started looking about for a replacement. 

Enter: cycling.

At first, it was widely reported in major news outlets that an unspecified discipline of cycling would replace horse riding. Yay! Then, bizarrely, CyclingTips seemed to get the worldwide scoop that it wouldn’t. Boo!

It was, as they say, A Big Mystery.

So, where are we up to?

The Pentathlon folks have spent the last six months picking through the array of global sporting codes to find the next horse racing. In late January, a short list of exciting candidates was named. Again, cycling was in the mix, in the form of “motor cross/mountain/electric”, which sounds like one of those death trap things that Simon Cowell broke his back on. But what really got my attention was the inclusion of pillow fighting – truly – which sounds and looks amazing. 

The UIPM is a master of suspense, and now, all these months later it has finally anointed the sport that will progress to trials.

It’s not pillow fighting. It’s not souped up e-bikes. 

It’s obstacle course racing.  

Specific details from the UIPM are scant for now – there are various lengths and obstacles that could be adopted – but from late June, the sport will be phased in with trials before a final vote at the UIPM Congress (which, if past form is anything to go off, will be a messy and dysfunctional affair). The chairman of the UIPM Athletes Committee, Yasser Hefny, said that “we are on the brink of a landmark decision that would change the history of Modern Pentathlon, the sport we all love, forever.”

Obstacle course racing is a legitimately fun to watch Ninja Warrior kind of thing, where ripped men and women lug sacks around, jump into muddy puddles, and swing between rings. I am hopeful that the UIPM incorporates some Japanese game show components into the mix too, but that is in their hands and not mine.

Sadly, now that bikes are out of the conversation, once and for all, I suppose that’s the end of CyclingTips’ brief stint reporting on modern pentathlon.

It has, as modern pentathletes used to say, been a ride.

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