Inside Lines: Modern pentathlon looks set to fall at Olympic hurdle


Click to follow
The Independent Online

One of the oldest Olympic sports, in which Britain has a great tradition, is in danger of being booted out of the Games this week.

The modern pentathlon, invented by Baron Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the modern Olympics exactly 100 years ago, faces the axe on the 150th anniversary of his birth. The International Olympic Committee will decide which of the 26 sports featured in London 2012 will be removed and added to the seven currently bidding for a place in the 2020 Games, of which only two can be chosen next September.

Modern pentathlon is known to be the most vulnerable as it is not sufficiently "televisual". Taekwondo could also be under threat. Yet what was once a five-day test of strength, skill and endurance embracing running, shooting, fencing, swimming and riding has been successfully compressed into one, and in London it also pioneered laser shooting ahead of other gun disciplines which controversially still employ real bullets.

Despite these innovations there are those on the IOC who sniffily perceive the modern pentathlon as anachronistic. Jim Fox, who led the British men's team to gold in the Montreal Olympics in 1976 – the first of several GB successes, culminating in Samantha Murray's silver in London – is not alone in being angered by the real possibility that the ultimate test for any Olympian could be replaced on the Olympic stage by what he calls "mickey mouse" sports such as wushu, an Oriental martial art which sounds like a character in Aladdin.

"It is a disgrace that this should even be considered, an insult to the legacy of Baron de Coubertin," he says. "The modern pentathlon has always been the very essence of what the Games should be about." Absolutely. Should De Coubertin's baby be thrown out with the Olympic bathwater then the Games really will have lost their soul. Or more likely sold it.

Giles in let-off fury

The decision by the British Boxing Board chairman, Charles Giles, to overturn the fine and ban imposed by their own Central Area Council on foul-mouthed heavyweight Tyson Fury following a typically tasteless Twitter rant against rival David Price is certain to lead to renewed calls for him to be replaced by a more prestigious figure such as the former Olympics chief Lord Moynihan.

Fury had failed to attend two disciplinary hearings and Giles's arbitrary action has prompted the resignation of the Council chairman, Geoff Boulter. This week the Board are expected to restore the licences of Derek Chisora and David Haye a year after their infamous Munich brawl. What a pity Messrs Fury, Chisora and Haye (not to mention a few footballers) were not present to see how sportsmen should behave at last week's media conference with Carl Froch and Mikkel Kessler.

For two-and-a-half hours both patiently and intelligently gave endless interviews for their world super-middleweight title unification bout without a bad word between them. "There'll be no gimmicks, bad-mouthing, rolling around at press conferences or slapping each other in the face," Froch promised. "We have too much respect for each other and the sport. We don't need that to sell tickets."

Too true. All 17,000 for their 25 May battle at London's 02 went within an hour.

Hammer blow?

Talking of tickets, West Ham have been advertising that some remain for their home game against Tottenham on 25 February. While they anticipate their 12th successive sell-out, doubts linger as to whether they can regularly fill the Olympic Stadium – or even if they will acquire it.

The club's chief executive, Karren Brady, says she is "more positive than ever", but mayor Boris Johnson is getting impatient. Hammers have been given until Tuesday week to formalise the legal and financial details, including how the £160 million conversion cost will be paid for.

"It's as if Boris is on the penalty spot and only needs to roll the ball into the net," says Brady. "But having been jilted at the altar before, you never know."