London 2012: The Modern Pentathlon Just Got Even More … Modern

Dennis Bowsher with the laser pistol that will be used in the pentathlon at the Olympics in London.Lucas Jackson/ReutersDennis Bowsher with the laser pistol that will be used in the pentathlon at the Olympics in London.

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — You may have missed it, but there is something big going on in the world of modern pentathlon.

The Games this year in London will not only be the first to use laser pistols instead of pistols that shoot pellets, but will also mark the debut of the combination running-shooting event. Instead of shooting and running being separate, athletes will now do both in one event. They will shoot five targets with a laser pistol, then run 1,000 meters– and they will do that three times. It is one of the more bizarre and challenging Olympic events.

“It was a difficult transition,” said Dennis Bowsher, a pentathlete for the United States who trains here. Bowsher became involved with the sport in 2003, five years before the combined event was announced. “It took me a few years to get that motion down,” he said.

Modern pentathlon is a sport in which athletes must complete four events in one day: swimming, fencing, show jumping on a horse they have not ridden before (called an unknown horse) and the combined shooting and running event. After the Beijing Summer Games in 2008, in an effort to increase the interest of fans, the sport’s organizers combined shooting and running, reducing the number of separate events to four from five. Yet the name “pentathlon” stayed, even though “penta-“ is a prefix for five. Linguists are baffled.

But for Olympic hopefuls in the ahem, technically, tetrathon, the changes have made for some new challenges in preparation.

Now, for example, Bowsher uses a treadmill that was moved into the laser shooting range here so he can practice shooting with his heart rate up.

“When shooting was an individual event by itself,” Bowsher said, “each shot would take me about 15 seconds from the time I shot the gun to when I squeezed the shot off. Now I’m looking to get all five shots off in 15 seconds.”

Bowsher is a member of the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program, training full time for his sport, which is considered active duty in the army. Pentathlon has a lengthy history with the military; General George S. Patton was a member of the U.S. pentathlon team a century ago at the Games in Stockholm. (He finished fifth overall.)

And now, there’s the laser pistol. More reminiscent of “Star Trek” than whatever the sport’s founder, Pierre de Coubertin, probably had in mind when he formally introduced it at the 1912 Games, the pistol has also changed pentathlon preparation for medal hopefuls like Bowsher.

Bowsher said that in general, his results are better with the laser gun than with shooting pellets. Pentathletes shoot 10 meters away from the target and during practice can track how far their shots hit from the target.

In the combined running-shooting event, there is no penalty for missing a target, other than losing time in the event. “I want to be as fast as possible,” Bowsher said.

“It’s better to learn to shoot with a high heart rate,” he said. “You want to get up there and start shooting right away.”

Bowsher said audiences should like the change.

“For me, it’s more exciting,” he said. “People can move up places in the shooting. If you have two guys running into the range together, you can see, ‘Oh, this guy hit two, this guy missed one.’ You’re on edge. Is he going to hit it? Or is he going to miss it?”

In addition to mastering the new running-shooting event, competitors have intensive training with horses for the riding segment, time in the pool for swimming, and practice with an epee for the fencing portion.

Although modern pentathlon will celebrate its 100-year anniversary at the Games this summer, the United States has yet to produce a gold medalist, a situation Bowsher hopes to change, even if it requires conquering the new running and shooting event.

“I have respect for every kind of sport,” he said. “It takes dedication.”

From The New York Times


About swimbikerun1
Devoted Father, Husband and Employee.Endurance sports fanatic (running,cycling,swimming).Triathlon athlete and coach.If only days had more than 24 hours.

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