The ignorant sports fan’s guide to the modern pentathlon
Pulling for your country in the the Olympics sometimes means pretending to care about a sport you know nothing about. It’s easy to root for a team in basketball or soccer, but what about field hockey or synchronized swimming?
To help you pretend like you know something about the more obscure Olympic sports, we’ll be bringing you guides for
idiots novices so you can fake your way through a conversation or pretend like you know what’s happening while you watch. We've previously broken down rugby sevens, handball, canoeing/kayaking and field hockey. Today: modern pentathlon.
What the hell is it?
The ancient Olympics had a pentathlon consisting of a sprint, javelin throw, discus, long jump and wrestling. The combination of events was meant to simulate the skills required of a soldier. Similarly, the modern pentathlon combines fencing, a 200-meter swim, horseback riding and a combined running and pistol shooting event. The one lame thing is that the pistol doesn’t actually shoot projectiles. It’s just a laser.
Why should you care?
If you think LeBron is better than MJ, this is the event for you. Sure, Michael Phelps is the Michael Jordan of swimming, but can he run, sword-fight, ride a horse and shoot a gun? These athletes have to master five entirely different skills.
Is the U.S. any good?
No, not at all. The last American man to medal was Robert Beck in 1960. Emily deRiel won silver in 2000, the first time the event was contested by women. Eastern Europeans have dominated the men’s competition in the past few decades, while Great Britain has won five out of 12 medals on the women’s side.
Rio disaster threat level
On a scale of “unfinished infrastructure” to “favela inferno,” what are the odds this is event is a spectacular failure?
Trash floating in a dirty lagoon
The odds that things go poorly don’t exactly rise to “burning trash” or “hundreds of dead fish” levels. The pentathlon is being held in the neighborhood of Deodoro, which is one of the poorest parts of Rio, but at least competitors won’t be exposed to Rio’s fetid waters.
Who’s the favorite?
The bookmakers peg Brit James Cooke and Germany’s Lena Schoneborn as the betting favorites on the men’s and women’s sides, respectively. Sports Illustrated’s picks are Aleksander Lesun of Russia and Lithunaian Laura Asadauskaitė. I’ll be pulling for Asadauskaitė, mostly because she’s only 5'3".