Great Britain’s Kate French wins gold in modern pentathlon

Britain hadn’t won a medal in the event since 2000

Charlie Bennett
Tokyo
Friday 06 August 2021 15:59
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Laura Kenny becomes first British woman to win gold at three Olympics

It is unlikely the Spice Girls had modern pentathlon in mind when they preached about girl power.

But Kate French re-established Great Britain’s place at the top of the mountain with an emphatic Tokyo victory for the 18th gold of these increasingly prosperous Games.

The last Olympics in Rio is the only time Team GB has left without a female medallist in this most unique of events, invented by the father of the Games, Pierre de Coubertin, to mimic the skills required in combat.

But French scratched that itch with a performance so brilliant it was just a shame no-one was there to see it.

“Winning Olympic gold has been on my mind for a long time. It has always been a dream and I cannot believe it has come true,” she said, her event live on Eurosport and  discovery+.

“I just thought I cannot believe I have done it when I crossed the line. That was all – and that it was very hot.”

Modern pentathlon is an unloved and unnatural sport which meshes together swimming, fencing, showjumping, shooting and running all in one day.

But Friday night at Tokyo Stadium was sport as its best – high stakes, high drama and an inspired champion at the top of her game.

French, from Meopham in Kent, was flirting with the medal positions for much of the day, with a solid swim, underwhelming fence and impressive showjump – her strongest suit.

But her laser-run finale, where athletes complete four laps of an 800m circuit and stop to hit a target five times with a pistol at the end of each one, was a breathtaking display of speed and composure. 

She started 15 seconds behind and finished 15 seconds in front.

“I really tried to stick to my plan and stay focussed,” the 30-year-old said. “I knew I could be in contention but I tried not to think too much about getting a medal.”

Kate French crosses the line to win gold

Britain has a strong record in the women’s event since it was added to the Games in 2000. Steph Cook won gold in Sydney, Georgie Harland bronze in Athens, Heather Fell silver in Beijing and Sam Murray the same in London. 

Rio 2016 was the first time Team GB left without a medal but the wait was worth it.

“I can’t say I remember Steph, but I know her and have met her many times. She is an inspiration in so many ways,” French added.

“And then Georgina Harland, I do remember her and meeting her. All the British women have been an inspiration to me.”

The manner of French’s win is also a boon for those who argue for its preservation in the Olympics.

It often ranks near the bottom when it comes to TV ratings and some believe to be outdated. But it would a challenge for anyone to watch the laser-run and not be swept up in the drama.

A bit like 90s TV hit Gladiators, athletes start in leaderboard order after a 200m swim, a winner-stays-on fencing competition and a showjumping round with a horse they are randomly drawn with 20 minutes before competing – which often leads to hilarious and disastrous results.

Kate French celebrates with her modern pentathlon gold

French, starting fifth and 15 seconds behind, was up to fourth at the end of the first pistol shoot and then steadily made her way into a slender lead at the end of the first lap.

With four athletes so close together, it looked like an all-time classic was brewing but French took it out at the front, stretching a gap on the track and consistently hit the target with the gun.

She was sensational and roared to victory after a slow start to the day. She was eighth after the swimming and fencing rounds but it’s on horseback where the game really changes. 

She and her temporary friend Clintino went round smoothly but, demonstrating the unpredictable nature of the format,Germany’s leader Annika Schleu could not sweettalk the badly named Saint Boy – who was more a sinner than a saint.

They were eliminated after he refused to play ball, throwing her from first to 31st overall, her chances of gold gone up in smoke, leaving the door open for French.

“I was holding it together okay until I rang my husband, that was quite emotional,” she said. “I can’t believe I am the champion.”

Stream every unmissable moment of Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 live on discovery+, The Streaming Home of the Olympics

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