The future of the Olympic Pentathlon may look different starting in 2028, as obstacle discipline is undergoing testing as a potential addition to Modern Pentathlon for the Olympic Summer Games in Los Angeles.
Currently consisting of fencing, swimming and equestrian leading up to pistol shooting, the International Modern Pentathlon Union (UIPM) is attempting to replace equestrian with the obstacle discipline. But first, it must demonstrate a reduction in cost and complexity and improvement across the areas of safety, accessibility, universality and appeal for young people and the general public.
The appeal seems to be there after a successful series of test events. The first was in Ankara, Turkey, on June 27–28, and the second in Manila, Philippines, from August 6–7. Yasser Hefny, the UIPM athletes committee chair, said several factor provide support to obstacle racing.
“Obstacle racing will significantly broaden the number of potential athletes in our sport and make modern pentathlon more dynamic and more appealing to young audiences worldwide — it is relatable, affordable, and accessible for kids everywhere,” Hefny said.
Obstacle racing has come a long way in being chosen as the possible replacement for equestrian. The UIPM received 61 proposals from 37 national federations. There are 30,000 permanent obstacle courses and training gyms worldwide and 20 million obstacle course racers worldwide, with 70,000 in the U.S. alone.
“At first, we were naturally a bit uncertain about the obstacle discipline,” Hefny said. “But after the first test in Ankara, Turkey, I can confidently say we had very positive feedback from the athletes. Everyone had a great time full of excitement and fun. We were like children enjoying our time on a large and challenging playground. It was fun discovering a new athletic experience. And the survey results we conducted and published on the UIPM website really reflect these positive emotions and feelings.”
The positive response continued during the third test event on a beach in Lignano Sabbiadoro, Italy, on September 9–10, in parallel with the UIPM 2022 Youth World Championships.
“We already saw a lot of excitement and enjoyment from athletes who tried obstacle discipline in Ankara and Manila but this test event took it to a new level,” Hefny said. “We heard the voice of youth loud and clear, both at the competition venue and in a meeting afterward. … I recommend that all generations of pentathletes listen carefully to the views of these athletes when forming their own opinions about the future direction of the sport.”
Taking a break from their participation in the UIPM competition, 122 pentathletes from 21 countries sampled Obstacle Discipline for the first time. The athletes who partook in the tests will be in their twenties by the time of the Los Angeles 2028 Olympic Games.
“I think it’s very intense and hard work but very fun,” said Jack Murray of Great Britain. “It’ll be a great addition to the modern pentathlon, and straight into the swimming or laser run, you need to get good with the arms.”
“I liked it, because I always watch TV series about obstacle courses at home, so I always wanted to try them,” said Milan Czak of Hungary.
Spectators who watch Ninja Warrior TV shows around the world may be wondering if the pentathlon version of obstacle racing will be similar to the shows. Hefny says they are still in the testing process, where various styles and forms of obstacles will be tried.
“Ninja Warrior is currently on the top of the list. It’s the style that we already tested and, having tested it myself with so many athletes, I can say that it was a fascinating, dynamic and successful experience,” Hefny said.
At the end of the testing and evaluation phase, the UIPM 2022 Congress will vote on proposals for the LA28 modern pentathlon format to be submitted to the International Olympic Committee. If obstacle racing is chosen to replace equestrian, the matter will be submitted for vote at the 140th IOC Session in 2023 and be the latest change in the sport that has been a feature of the Olympic Summer Games since 1912.
“I encourage all National Federations, coaches and support teams to give athletes the opportunity to participate in the obstacle discipline test and discover how this discipline can be successfully integrated into Modern Pentathlon’s future in the Olympic Games,” said UIPM President Dr. Klaus Schormann.