While the pennants were flying in Baltimore and Pittsburgh, the flags of 16 nations fluttered at San Antonio, where 12 three-man teams and four individual representatives were competing in the Modern Pentathlon world championship.
The Hungarians have dominated the championship since 1963, losing only one individual and two team titles in that time. It was the Russians who handed them the last defeat, in 1969, and the Russians who did it to them again this year in Texas, where Hungary came in second and the U.S. finished third.
Russia took both the team competition and the individual championship, with 34-year-old Boris Onischenko, of Kiev, unseating Hungary's defending champion, Péter Kelemen. Onischenko did not win a single event, but turned in the overall high score of 5,206 to win his first world championship.
The opening event, a 1,000-meter ride across 20 obstacles, is, of all the pentathlon contests, the most chancy. So much depends upon the luck of the draw, not only for the order of the ride but for the horse. The competitor has only 20 minutes to get acquainted with a strange mount before he begins a ride against the clock over a smaller, but Olympic-style, course. At San Antonio the jumps were festively decorated (with flowers taken from a local cemetery), but the morning was rainy and the footing muddy. The morning competitors were thus at a disadvantage, and none of them more so than Claude Guiguet of France. He drew a horse named Jocko and promptly found himself sliding off a runaway. "He's going to fall in the mud," one spectator predicted. "No," said another. "It's going to be the cactus." Guiguet's was one of the quickest remounts in pentathlon history but, with a stirrup dangling, he was soon on the ground again. When the horse was finally caught, Guiguet had run out of time and was given no points. In any case, he was in no shape to continue. A cut on his leg required five stitches, and his hand was too swollen to hold a weapon in the upcoming events.
October 24, 1971
The winning rides came in the afternoon, and the end of the day found the U.S., which had drawn three of the best horses, in the lead, with Hungary second and the Soviet Union in seventh place. An unfortunate draw may have ultimately made the difference between a third and fourth place team finish for Germany, though Heiner Thade, who also ended up with Jocko, managed not only to stay on him, but to finish with a creditable 925 points.
The fencing competition on the second day lasted nearly 12 hours, as each of the 40 participants had to fence everyone else in a one-touch épée bout. Hans-Gunnar Liljenvall's win put Sweden into second place as Hungary moved into first and Russia to third. With these top three teams tightly bunched at 5,554, 5,478 and 5,423 points, the battle was obviously to be between Russia and Hungary again, not only for the team championship but for the individual honors.
Hungary's Andràs Balczó, five times the individual world champion, had only moved up to 20th from 27th place—a bad ride on the previous morning had shaken him enough to show in his fencing—but his young teammate Zsigmond Villànyi was in first.
Balczó began to look like his old self on the third day, sharing first place in pistol-shooting with Russia's Leonid Ivanov and Finland's Risto Hurme, but the Soviets' Boris Onischenko's consistently high performances had by this time put him into first place overall, where he was to remain. Young Villànyi finished second, with Balczó salvaging an impressive third after winning the 4,000-meter cross-country run on the last day.
The final team point standings were: Russia, 15,006; Hungary, 14,989 and the U.S. 14,635—another impressive third. It was this country's first medal in seven years.
A world championship is always colorful, but perhaps the most colorful person at this one was not an athlete but the U.S. Chief of Delegation, Mrs. William A. Hewitt, an accomplished horsewoman from East Moline, III. She strode about wearing a Japanese sports officer's cap on her red head, shouting impartial encouragement to the South African, Norwegian, U.S. and Japanese competitors. "I'm against nationalism in sport," she explained.
Mrs. Hewitt at one time hated the pentathlon, but some years ago on a visit to Japan she unexpectedly found herself the coach of that nation's pentathlon riders. Now her enthusiasm is such that she is stalking a fencing master to set up in business, hoping to improve U.S. performances in this event, in which it does so badly. She gives anyone interested the room to ride cross-country on her farm in East Moline, and has installed a pistol-shooting range.
She has firm ideas about athletes' diets, and in San Antonio almost got herself in trouble with the British coach by giving his cold-ridden contestants vitamins of her own concocting—he was afraid they might show up in the dope tests. "They need more sophisticated nutrition," she snorted. "Pentathletes shouldn't catch colds. I haven't had one myself for eight years, and I used to be very bronchial." On the other hand, she once managed to break an ankle feeding her tropical fish.
Mrs. Hewitt also has firm views about women engaging in a modern pentathlon, something which is under consideration, and she turned down a place on the rules committee. "Why should I help make rules for a sport I disapprove of? I dislike the idea of pistol-packin' mamas on the shooting range. Hand weapons are so unfeminine."
In a sport where many Chiefs of Delegation are more interested in protocol than in the athlete, Mrs. Hewitt puts the latter in first place, and will spend half the night pacing the floor worrying about them. "I think we should do everything to help a competitor better his performance, no matter what his country," she says. "That, to me, is the difference between honor and dishonor."
Mrs. Hewitt is the first U.S. woman to hold the post she filled in San Antonio in an all-male sport. She shapes up as an argument for not being the last.