Obstacle racing is set to replace equestrian in the modern pentathlon event despite strong opposition from athletes.
Under pressure to remove horses from the event, modern pentathlon will test obstacle racing as a replacement. If approved, the new discipline, which will be alongside fencing, swimming, running and shooting, will be added to the sport after the 2024 Paris Olympics and in time for the 2028 Los Angeles Games.
UIPM, the modern pentathlon’s governing body, said that it received “over 60 proposals” and will test two types of obstacle racing starting after the World Cup finals in late June.
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This means changing the sport that has been a core part of Olympic history for over a century.
The decision was taken by a focus group of 26 athletes, claims the UIPM.
“After many months of detailed talks we are on the brink of a landmark decision that would change the history of modern pentathlon forever,” said Yasser Hefny, chairman of the UIPM athletes committee.
“While we still have specifics to finalise, we have a new and exceptional opportunity to grow and give visibility to our sport for the benefit of many generations to come, and that’s very exciting.”
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The jumping portion was strongly encouraged by the IOC’s president, Thomas Bach, to be removed after an incident of horse abuse at the Tokyo Olympics last year when a horse was punched by a German coach.
The horse, Saint Boy, refused to jump, leaving German athlete Annika Schleu in tears as hopes of gold slipped away. Her coach, Kim Raisner, was sent home from the Olympics for striking the animal. "Her actions were deemed to be in violation of the UIPM competition rules," said the governing body.
Despite the incident, the change has proven to be unpopular amongst athletes, as, according to them, the UIPM has provoked confusion while handling the process. A poll by Pentathlon United, an independent athlete that acts as a “voice for all pentathletes”, showed that over 95% of athletes were displeased with the way the UIPM has gone about the change.
Joe Choong and Kate French, the two Team Great Britain athletes who won gold at the event in 2020, were among hundreds of athletes who signed a motion of no confidence and asked the UIPM president and his executive board to resign.
Another Team GB athlete made her voice heard as Kate Allenby, who won bronze at the Sydney Olympics, said that the news, while disappointing, was not surprising.
“We’ve long suspected that the obstacle course was at the forefront of the UIPM executive board’s agenda in replacing riding," Allenby said.
“The decision to only test OCR [obstacle course racing] and not any of the other apparent 60 options they considered just highlights this further. We repeat our call for the IOC to intervene.”
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