— Published 25 May 2022

The obstacle course, a false air of Ninja Warrior

The modern pentathlon seems to love stories with a twist. After announcing the abandonment of horse riding after the Paris 2024 Games, then explaining that it was actively working on a substitute discipline, its international federation (UIPM) is now distilling its information down to a trickle.

At the beginning of May, the UIPM lifted a corner of the veil by revealing that the fifth discipline would be an obstacle course. On Tuesday 24 May, the UIMP provided further details.

The obstacle race will be run on foot, as the latest UIPM communication suggested. It will have the very military look of an obstacle course.

According to a UIPM press release, the athletes will compete in groups of two or four, over a distance of about 100 metres, with a succession of about ten obstacles to overcome before reaching the finish.

The obstacles? A subtle mix inspired by military courses and outdoor games. A more sober version of the reality TV show Ninja Warrior, created in Japan and then popularised in the United States.

The athletes will not have to climb the Tower of Heroes, as in the TV show, but they will have to climb a series of steps, a 1.5 metre wall, a monkey bar, staggered steps, gymnast rings, a wheel, a beam, ladders and a curved anti-tsunami wall. Strong.

The UIMP sums it up: modern pentathlon specialists will have to “run, walk, climb, crawl, slide, push their way or otherwise propel themselves to the finish line.”

The new discipline will be tested in real life at the end of June (27-28) in Ankara, Turkey, in conjunction with the World Cup Final. The programme will include separate events for under-19s, juniors, seniors and obstacle course specialists.

If the test is successful, the fifth discipline will be submitted for approval to the next UIPM Congress, scheduled for the end of the year. It could then be proposed to the IOC Executive Board, in the hope that its members will find it to their liking and decide to reinstate modern pentathlon in the programme of the Los Angeles Games in 2028. It has now been temporarily removed from the programme, as the Olympic body is waiting to know the choice and nature of the fifth discipline before making its decision.

The UIPM has been saying it like a refrain: dropping equestrian and including obstacle course, chosen from 60 proposals, will reduce the cost and complexity of the discipline. By leaving the horses in the stable, the Monaco-based body promises to make its sport more exciting to watch, more accessible, popular and sustainable.

It remains to be seen what the reaction will be from the people most affected, the athletes. The abandonment of equestrian events, described by the UIPM as “the greatest upheaval in the 110-year history of the modern pentathlon“, had provoked indignation among some of the world’s elite. The British Joe Choong and Kate French, Olympic champions last summer in Tokyo, led the protest. Leading a group of opponents including past and present competitors, they pointed to the lack of transparency in the process.