Modern pentathlon too tight to call, says Cook

Spence hopes for gold but a good start is vital

One of the most traditional Olympic sports begins again in a new format this weekend. The modern pentathlon, which has been in the Olympics since the Stockholm Games of 1912, traditionally involved the five disciplines of fencing, swimming, show jumping, running and shooting.

Those are still the constituent parts of one of the Olympics' most distinctive sports, but this time the last two are merged. The creation of a combined event, in which competitors run and shoot, has brought a more dramatic finish to the competition. Along with the replacement of the old air pistols with laser guns, modern pentathlon is adapting as it moves into its second century as an Olympic sport.

Britain's gold medal winner from Sydney, Stephanie Cook, says the combined event has "really changed the competition".

Changing an event this much may act as a leveller, so this might be a shame for those hoping for British medals. Mhairi Spence, from Inverness, is the world champion, having won the women's individual and team events earlier this year.

While Cook predicted that the British challenge would be strong, she could not be certain of glory. "It's going to be a very hard call. At the Olympics it's an open competition and anything can happen. It's really important for the British girls to get a good fence under their belts and then have that to build on through the competition. The pressure going into the final combined event, especially with the shooting, can really get to the athletes, so it does leave it very open."

But with home support Cook is hopeful of a perfect end to the Olympics in tomorrow's women's competition, which starts with the fencing at 8am. The men start today. Cook added: "We've seen through the Games how the support from the crowd has lifted all the British competitors. It is a question of feeding off that energy of the crowd and using it in a positive way."

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