Modern Pentathlon hopes obstacle racing will be key to inclusion at LA 28 Olympic Games

Modern Pentathlon, the sport developed specifically for the Olympics starting in 1912, is in a fight for inclusion at the Los Angeles 2028 Games and will learn its fate in October.

UIPM obstacle racing 5th discipline test event in Manilla, Philippines August 9, 2022 (UIPM World Pentathlon / Dan Oaten)
Modern Pentathletes compete at UIPM obstacle racing 5th discipline test event in Manilla, Philippines August 9, 2022 (UIPM World Pentathlon / Dan Oaten)

“UIPM is working closely with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to make some big changes that are in-line with Olympic Agenda 2020+5,” Yasser Hefny, Chair of the UIPM (World Pentathlon) athletes committee told by email.

UIPM has proposed that obstacle racing replace the horse riding element of the competition after the latter was dropped from the sport when animal abuse was caught on camera during the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. The decision has been controversial, and many of the sports’ athletes were not initially behind the new direction. Last year IOC executives insisted that the athletes’ voices need to be forefront in the decision-making, and that the UIPM must work out its issues before Modern Pentathlon can continue on the Olympics programme in 2028.

The world governing body has since been working to prove that the athletes are behind the new trajectory, and that adding obstacle racing will be good for the athletes, the sport and the IOC’s overall vision.

“And so far, the IOC’s feedback has been very positive. I know that UIPM has a strong feeling that the inclusion of Obstacle will not only meet the necessary criteria but add value to make the Olympic Games more accessible, dynamic and popular for young people everywhere,” Hefny wrote.

An alliance was struck with World Obstacle and a test event staged in Manilla, Philippines last year to showcase the possible change and gauge athletes’ reactions. The addition of obstacle was formally adopted by the UIPM congress last November with the support of 83 percent of the members. The new format of fencing, obstacle, swimming and laser run will be implemented in three Modern Pentathlon World Championships later this year including junior, U19 and U17.

The results will be showcased to the IOC’s 140th Session in Mumbai, India from October 16-17 where the final decision on the sport’s LA 28 inclusion will be made.

“Based on my attendance at the New Pentathlon Discipline Test Events in 2022, I can say with complete certainty that athletes who participate in this new sporting challenge are going to enjoy it a lot,” UIPM President Klaus Schormann said.

“From what I observed, athletes are very excited when they discover and tackle the demands of this challenging new discipline.”

Modern Pentathlon looks to ‘Ninja Warrior’ obstacle racing in bid for LA 2028 Olympics

Obstacle racing may be new to Modern Pentathlon and potentially the Olympics, but it is already a popular global phenomena. Television shows such as Sasuke in Japan and Ninja Warrior elsewhere are widely followed by as many as a billion people globally, according to UIPM. Mass participation obstacle events under the Spartan banner allow fans around the world to personally engage in various versions of the sport.

Schormann describes the partnership with World Obstacle as a win-win for both federations.

“UIPM is bringing the world of Obstacle to the forefront and creating opportunities for athletes to achieve their Olympic dreams,” he said.

“It is a fantastic opportunity that will see millions of young athletes join our community to learn and train for the other Modern Pentathlon disciplines of fencing, swimming and laser run alongside obstacle.”

This might be the message the IOC wants to hear as it struggles to connect with younger fans. With the recent inclusion of more urban inspired sports such as skateboarding, 3×3 basketball and breaking, and a new esports series, the IOC is eager to evolve the Games into something that will reengage a lost generation.

“Introducing Obstacle to the Games programme will bring a fresh, youthful, and dynamic fanbase to our sport and the Olympic Games,” Hefny said.

“I am excited to see it provide a massive boost to the popularity of Modern Pentathlon. Its broadcast-friendly format that has already proven to have global appeal to younger fans, commercial partners, and host countries.”

Hefny expressed confidence that the initial opposition by athletes has changed.

“As someone who is very close with our community of athletes, I understand that change can often be uncomfortable and uncertain.

“However, I know that change is in the DNA of our sport, and that is why we have been proactive in addressing any concerns that athletes may have through open dialogue.”

The test events held last year involved almost 300 pentathletes and 100 obstacle athletes from around the world. Hefny said that 88 percent of the pentathletes were either ‘satisfied’ or ‘very satisfied’ with the experience according to participant feedback.

A senior producer and award-winning journalist covering Olympic bid business as founder of as well as providing freelance support for print and Web publications around the world. Robert Livingstone is a member of the Olympic Journalists Association and the International Society of Olympic Historians.

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