The worst has been avoided. And with it, the risk of a long desert crossing. But the modern pentathlon, under threat of exclusion from the Olympic movement after the Paris 2024 Games, saved its head.
Asked by the IOC to come up with a new, less controversial format, its international body, the UIPM, pulled a new Ninja Warrior-like discipline out of its hat: obstacle racing. It will replace equestrianism, which has been consigned to the dustbin of history.
The IOC was delighted. Its 141st Session, meeting last month in Mumbai, gave it the thumbs-up by reinstating modern pentathlon for the Los Angeles 2028 Games. But what do the athletes themselves think?
FrancsJeux interviewed two of the discipline’s most respected athletes, France’s Elodie Clouvel and Valentin Prades (pictured above), 2016 Olympic silver medallist and 2018 European champion respectively.
FrancsJeux: Are you worried that the modern pentathlon will disappear from the Olympic program in Los Angeles 2028?
Elodie Clouvel: No. I’ve never been worried about the Olympic future of our sport. I’m a natural optimist. And I attended a meeting in Monaco, at the UIPM headquarters, where the new version of the modern pentathlon was presented and discussed. She convinced me that we’d stay with the program. The modern pentathlon is the basic sport of the Games. A sport which, as its name suggests, has always been modern.
Valentin Prades: Not worried, because I believed in the project. I know that the UIPM has taken a risk by changing one discipline, but I had confidence in its knowledge of the context and the political ins and outs. Our sport is the DNA of the Olympic Games, and I couldn’t imagine the IOC removing it from the program.
Could he have lived without the Olympic Games?
Elodie Clouvel: No. It was created by Pierre de Coubertin. The Olympic Games are its foundation and its essence. Some sports can live without the Games. Not ours.
Valentin Prades: We’ll never know. It’s true that the modern pentathlon is fairly confidential, but it has a real community of fans. Many people practice it without the slightest idea of one day going to the Olympic Games. In fact, they make up the bulk of its practitioners. But withdrawing from the Games would have made things complicated for the top level.
Does the addition of obstacle racing and a guaranteed presence at the Los Angeles 2028 Games mark a new beginning?
Elodie Clouvel: Certainly. Our sport will grow even more internationally, with the arrival of new countries. It will gain in visibility, particularly with the media. A new start, a new impetus. But what we’re about to experience won’t be a first. Modern pentathlon has always been in a state of perpetual evolution.
Valentin Prades: Yes, we’re going to see a new modern pentathlon, one that’s even more dynamic, more urban too, and a lot of fun to watch. I must admit I’m very enthusiastic. The young athletes I train with have had the opportunity to try obstacle racing in competition. They’ve been won over.
Were you in favor of withdrawing from horse riding?
Elodie Clouvel: I love riding. I found it sad to see this discipline come to an end. A rider/horse pairing can be a wonderful thing. But at some point, you have to get wet and dare to change. Drawing lots for a horse before the competition was no longer possible, no longer in our time. What happened at the Tokyo 2020 Games was a sign. With obstacle racing, we’ll no longer experience the same inequalities.
Valentin Prades: I was one of the first athletes to take a stand in favor of withdrawing from equestrianism. My generation, we grew up with riding, with the rule of drawing lots for horses. But looking back, I find it unacceptable to gamble ten years of training, effort and sacrifice on a draw. The rule was far too unfair.
What do you think of obstacle racing?
Elodie Clouvel: It’s very attractive, very strong visually. It will take some getting used to, but this new discipline will add spice. It requires real technical skills, as well as physical and mental qualities.
Valentin Prades: I haven’t tried it yet because I’m completely focused on the Paris 2024 Games. I’ll switch after the Games. But this new discipline is very exciting. It requires new skills. We’re going to have to work our forearms and shoulders a lot more.
Was it the best choice?
Elodie Clouvel: Yes, it’s a very modern, up-to-date discipline that brings people together. It goes well with our sport. It’s also going to be more accessible. At the same time, this choice preserves the notion of obstacles, as in horse riding, but without the presence of the animal.
Valentin Prades: Yes, I had to find something unique. I couldn’t see myself getting into archery or climbing, for example. With this new discipline, we’re keeping the DNA of our sport, while preserving the notion of overcoming obstacles.
Will the abandonment of horseback riding and the arrival of obstacle racing upset the hierarchy?
Elodie Clouvel: I don’t think it will really be upset. Everything has been analyzed and thought through. Fencing will remain very important. The obstacle course can send you to the very bottom of the ranking, in the event of a bad run, or it can take you up to the top. This was already the case with horse riding. You always have to challenge yourself before each event, master the five disciplines and stay clear-headed right to the end.
Valentin Prades: The first competitions organized for young riders showed that the rankings were closer. The gaps will be smaller than with horse riding, especially once everyone has prepared for the obstacle course. With this new discipline, we’ll be seeing athletes from Africa and South America.