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Olympics 101: Modern pentathlon
The pentathlon was originally conceived in the Ancient Olympics as a contest to determine which athlete had the best soldier skills. Its competitions have since been modernized to fit a calvary officer's skills. This five-event contest incorporates swimming, fencing, horse show-jumping, shooting and running disciplines.
The swimming competition is a 200-meter freestyle race with the fastest recorded time by a swimmer being declared the winner. The fencing completion is a sword-fight (using safe épées) in which all competitors face each other at least once. The winners of each contest advance on to the next round. The show-jumping event involves the athlete mounting an unfamiliar horse and maneuvering through a course that contains 12 jumps.
Once these three competitions are completed, each athlete is given a time handicap and seeded accordingly for the run-and-shoot contest. The leader is seeded first and has a time advantage on his opponents. In the run-and-shoot, the athlete has 70 seconds to shoot a laser pistol at five targets and then run 1,000 meters, a sequence that is repeated twice more for three cycles. The winner of the pentathlon is the athlete who crosses the finish line first.
Why should I care?
Unless you live in Eastern Europe, you probably won't care about pentathlon since this sport's popularity seems to thrive in only one geographic area. In 2002, the IOC actually considered dropping this sport from the Summer Games but a tweak in the competition -- combining the running and shooting disciplines into one event -- has saved the sport from the chopping block for now. Nevertheless, this may be the last time the Summer Games see the pentathlon competition so why not watch for posterity's sake?
OK, so who should I watch?
For the women's competition, watch Ukraine's Nataliya Dobrynska. She won the gold medal in the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing and set a world record of 5,013 points in the 2012 World Indoor Championships. For the men, Russia's Aleksander Lesun is No. 1 in world rankings and won the World Cup event in March.
What chance do the Americans have to win?
Let's put it this way -- the United States has never won an Olympic gold medal in this sport and no American is in the top-20 world rankings.