Wednesday, August 13, 2008

L'important n'est pas de gagner, mais de participer.

In 1912, Pierre de Fredy, Baron of Coubertin, and founder of the modern Olympic Games immortalized an unknown 19th century French military liaison rider.

Or he may have been German, Polish or Hungarian, depending on who's telling the story.

Anyhoo, this courier was riding with dispatches when enemy skirmishers killed his horse. He was apparently a man of some bravery, because he promptly killed several of his attackers with his saddle pistol, before escaping with his papers intact.

On foot, behind enemy lines, the courier continued his mission, being forced to engage more troops with his sword, escaping across a river, before finally delivering the dispatches at a run.

At the 1912 Olympic Games held in Stockholm, Sweden, in honour of this dispatch rider, de Coubertin introduced the Modern Pentathlon.

Little known in the United States, the Modern Pentathlon consists of five events.

Each athlete must complete a 350-450 meter course of 15 jumps on horseback. The horse the athlete uses is provided by the hosting organisation, and the rider first meets his horse 20 minutes before the start of the race.

A rapid-fire pistol course tests the athlete's marksmanship skills. Originally a .22LR on turning targets at 25 metres; in this modern fluffy bunny world, the pistol course is now a .177 air pistol at 10 metres -- 20 shots at 20 targets with 40 seconds allowed per shot.

Swordsmanship is demonstrated by way of the epee, with each athlete fighting a match against every other contender -- first touch ends each match.

The swimming part is demonstrated in a 200 metre free-style swim.

Last, but certainly not least, the 3 kilometre cross-country foot-race. Not a 3000 metre run on track -- the course must be held over open or rough terrain.

Traditionally, the events were held over a four or five day period, however, beginning at the 1996 Games, all five events are completed in one day.

In this years Beijing Games, Pistol starts at 0830 Local Time;
Epee starts at 1000;
Swimming at 1430;
Riding at 1700;
and ending with the Cross-Country Run at 2000 Local Time.

And you think you have a rough twelve hours.

One of the medal contenders in that first Modern Pentathlon was a very young Lieutenant George Patton of the United States. Unfortunately, LT Patton turned in a dismal performance in, of all things, pistol, which knocked him down to fifth place.

Seems he made up for his disappointment by using tanks in his later interpersonal conflicts.

For several decades after 1912 the Modern Pentathlon was limited to military participants, until Lars Hall, a Swedish civilian, won the gold medal at the 1952 Olympiad at Helsinki, Finland.

Stephanie Cook of Great Britain broke the male-only restriction at the 2000 Sydney games in a close-run, finger-nail-biting win in the Women's Modern Pentathlon.

Despite the fact that the Modern Pentathlon was specifically created for the Olympic Games by the father of the Modern Olympics, its future is hazy.

Little known to the general public outside of Eastern Europe, the Modern Pentathlon doesn't draw huge crowds, nor multi-million-dollar endorsements. It is, however, every bit as athletic as any other Olympic sport -- and more so than some.

Mens Modern Pentathlon
will be Thursday, Aug 21; and Womens Modern Pentathlon will be the next day.

Hopefully we'll get some decent coverage of the guys and gals before the Modern Pentathlon fades into history in favour of Doubles Basketweaving, or somesuch Politically Correct, no-icky-guns, non-violent, anti-militaristic bushwa.



Don said...

I've heard that there was some controversy over Patton's score. They say he was leading until the pistol event and that what killed his score in that event was a complete miss--as in a shot off the paper.

The theory goes that he was shooting well enough up until then to make it plausible that he passed that shot through one of the previous holes in his target.

Maybe they should shoot it with 9mm on falling plates for time. :D

Anonymous said...

my thought would be to ditch the bb guns and specify that the standard issue service pistol of each competitor's country be used by that competitor, no "tweaks" allowed, and competition garb should be again, each nation's standard military field uniform. the event commemorates military courage, endurance and skills, keep it a "military" event, just as the original marathon commemorates the messenger who brought the news of marathon and died to bring it.

Anonymous said...

Apparently, he should have won the gold, but the judges ruled against him.

JPG said...

It's certainly worth noting that LT Patton voluntarily handicapped himself in the pistol shooting event. He chose to use the standard army service sidearm, a Colt .38 revolver, Model 1905. This handgun is notably more difficult to shoot well than the .22 target pistols used by the other competitors. It was not even fitted with target sights and Patton had to rely on the rather coarse sight channel milled into the top of the frame. The actual revolver used by Patton is illustrated at --
(Hat tip to Cypher who provided the link that led to that image.)

Further, the .38 made far larger holes in the target paper than the .22. Patton, an excellent shot, clustered his hits TOO CLOSE TOGETHER on the bullseye, making it impossible to see the each of the individual holes. This led the judges to rule that there were one or two missing shots which couldn't be said to have hit the target.

Modern competetion in most matches uses the "three shot cluster" rule, so that if a hole is cut out large enough for a bullet to pass through, the shooter is given the benefit of the doubt.

JPG said...

Unfortunately that link didn't print completely. Maybe this will work:

To see the link, you must remove the spaces following the / marks and run the entire thing together on the address line. Sorry about that.

Anonymous said...

The 1912 Olympics in Stockholm, Sweden saw what was perhaps the first American Indian participant. He was the great Jim Thorpe, who won gold for BOTH the Pentathlon and the Decathlon.
He was later stripped of his medals because he played semi-pro baseball for two summer seasons to earn money. The silver medal winners refused to move up and accept Thorpe's gold because they felt he had won them fairly.
Thorpe's life was a sadly familiar one for American Indians, one of consistent tragedy and despondence.
But, for one shining season, he was a Winner.

Anonymous said...

You're making me laugh cereal onto my desk, Lawdog.

Anonymous said...

Just the General Patton part caught me by surprise.

You just keep a writing insights on our Olympics. You're putting a lot of little known information out here that appeals to reasonable Americans like you and me.

'Preciate that.

Brad J (Kazrak) said...

You got me thinking about a 'truly modern pentathlon', LawDog.

Not sure if it's an improvement (probably not), but it's more modern. (...which, on reflection, is far, far too common a comment in modern life as it is. Hrm.)

Anonymous said...

I'd rather watch the pentathlon then the "men's handball" that I saw one morning. I know these guys are world class athletes, but the game itself seems rather week.

Anonymous said...

The essential warlike nature of the summer games has been euphemized: They still throw spears, although they're called javelins. They still throw rocks, although the event is called the shot put. Ancient armies ran toward or away from each other, did they not?

Archery? Skeet/Trap at claybirds instead of in trench warfare?

Boxing. Wrestling. Gymnastics. All of these useful in hand-to-hand combat.

Equestrian competition? Which army has the better cavalry?

Let the War Games continue!!!

:-), Art

Fenris said...

If I was ever to win an Olympic medal, this would be the event I would want to win it in. The skill to work with a horse to clear the fences. The finesse and fine control to wield sword and pistol effectively. And the stamina needed to swim and run. That indeed is something to be proud of.

Old NFO said...

You're right LD, PETA will take away the horses and the UN will take away the guns and swords (they are DANGEROUS, somebody might get hurt after all)...

Anonymous said...

If you should visit Denver -after the convention, please - swing by the Cheyenne Fencing Society and Modern Pentahlon club on Colfax Ave, east of Colorado. Last I looked, Janusz Peciak of Poland, the '76 gold medalist, was still teaching there. My son was his student and Janusz was an incredible teacher. [The owner, Elaine, was almost the oldest woman to compete in fencing a few Olympics ago, but missed by one point - as the result of a European judge's vote.] Janusz was kind enough to ask me if I'd like to assist in the airgun training [quite an ego boost for an old man; maybe he meant I could change the targets]. Olde Force

perlhaqr said...

Hunh. I'd never even heard of this event. But it certainly sounds pretty cool. Horses, guns, and swords. Now, add a "practical bazooka" segment, and we're really talking.

For everyone else: will shorten up those links and make them fit into comments better.

Todd said...

Being an Atlantan, I was privileged to have been here in '96 during the games. I didn't really care to get tickets to the high demand events and have to fight the crowds, etc, so when we were deciding what to watch, Modern Pentathlon was one of more affordable events not in great demand. We spent quite an enjoyable day following the athletes from the shooting/fencing venue at the World Congress Center to the pool at Georgia Tech, finally ending up in Conyers at the Horse Park for the Equestrian and running events.

Thanks for giving that great memory a bump!!