Horse-riding, fencing, swimming, running and shooting – it’s all going on at the University of Bath this August. Emma Clegg asks event director Rebecca Leach about the Modern Pentathlon and Laser Run World Championships
Not sure what Modern Pentathlon and Laser Run is? Then read on and head along to the World Championships at the University of Bath at Pentathlon GB’s National Training Centre, from 19–28 August. This modern pentathlon event – consisting of horse-riding, fencing, swimming and laser run (running and shooting) – first took place in Ancient Greece at the Ancient Olympic Games. The wide variety of skills needed to compete meant that pentathletes were held in high esteem as physical specimens. Rebecca Leach, director of the World Championships event, says, “This sport showed competitors as perfect Olympians – the five events would challenge an individual in every aspect of their sporting prowess.”
It was Pierre de Coubertin who invented the modern pentathlon, bringing into focus the skills required by a late-19th-century soldier, with competitions in shooting, swimming, fencing, equestrianism and cross-country running. Each competitor is awarded a certain number of points based on their performance in each event and the overall winner has the highest point total at the end.
This year’s Modern Pentathlon World Championships is the first to be staged in Britain since 2009 and will be contested in a new, action-packed 90-minute format. Spectators will watch the fencing, horse-riding and laser run live from their seats in an outdoor arena at the Team Bath Sports Training Village, while the swimming section – taking place in the University’s Olympic-sized pool – will be broadcast via a large video screen in the stadium. The BBC is covering the finals with a live feed and Sky is doing the highlights package.
It’s a fast-paced event, with competitors moving straight from one event to the next. “They start with riding, then fencing, then swimming, then the laser run with shooting and running at the end”, says Rebecca. “There is no time for drying off after swimming – they will just drop their stuff off and then get straight out to the laser run. So it’s not much time at all. The 90-minute format for Modern Pentathlon is quite new, and it makes it very hard-going for the athletes because they don’t have any time and to transition so quickly between such different sports is really challenging.”
Spectators will be invested in the race as it develops because the points will accumulate at the end of each event and show on the public leaderboard. “Before the laser run, each competitor’s points are changed into seconds, so you get a staggered start. So if you’ve got most points, you get a head start against the next person, so the first person to cross the line of the laser run is the overall winner.”
The Laser Run World Championships (19–21 August) combines running and shooting in fast-paced races and also includes a Para Laser Run category for the first time. “The laser run will have at least 800 athletes because it includes nine year olds all the way up to over 70s. So it’s more of a mass participation, although it’s still World Championships,” says Rebecca.
“In Modern Pentathlon there will be around 100 men and 100 women in individual events, and for the relays at least 20 teams per event. The GB team training in Bath will only get four faces per event, so we get four men and four women, and one team for the relays.” There is a really strong GB team who are all competing for places, to be announced on 19 July.
“The men’s and women’s relays are on the Family Day, on Tuesday 22 August, with every ticket costing just £5. The relays sound gripping because the relay events are back to back. “In the horse-riding, one of them goes around and does the course, they tag the next person who goes around and does the course. So it creates even more action to watch.”
Interactive ‘have a go’ sessions will run alongside the competitive events to give spectators the chance to discover the five pentathlon disciplines for themselves.
Rebecca says, “The whole event will be really interactive with people connecting with the crowd and fun things going on and it will be great for kids to watch. It is such a good way of inspiring new generations to come in, and that’s what we want to do, because many people don’t know about the sport.”
There is also a big city trail taking place from 7–28 August, where local children will receive a downloadable pack that will take them around the city to discover information about Modern Pentathlon and there will be a big display outside the station in the forecourt celebrating 100 years of Pentathlon GB.
Competitors – including the Pentathlon GB home team – are gearing up for a shot at global glory and Paris 2024 Olympic Games qualification. But it’s hard fought for. Rebecca says, “In the recent World Cup final in Turkey, Joe Choong, gold medallist and a talented GB Modern Pentathlon athlete, tripped on the finish line and came second. It was a sprint finish and there was so much water, he just tripped over and fell on the finish line – and it was a qualifying place for the Olympics.”
There are also big changes afoot in the event to make it more inclusive. “Modern Pentathlon has needed to modernise to attract more people to the sport and while it’s in the Olympics in Paris, it is not being included in Los Angeles Olympics because it is not seen as inclusive or progressive enough. So the horse-riding is going to be taken out after Paris and obstacle racing is coming in to replace it.”
Event management has a reputation for requiring absolute dedication from its staff, involving unsociable hours and no time for seeing family. Rebecca, herself the mother of two young children, has made sure that this culture has been reinvented for these World Championships with the events team involving 15 part-time staff. “I’ve worked on so many events where I see people just completely burnt out, working flat out, not able to see their family. And we lose so many women from the industry because they have kids, But it doesn’t have to be like this – we are event planners, so we can plan it.”
Engage with Modern Pentathlon for high-ranking athletes, for family engagement, the fire of competition, for inclusivity in competitors and staff, and an engrossing event spectacle.
Myles Pillage British Modern Pentathlete
I started competing in Modern Pentathlon at the age of 16 (U17 level). I had an older sister who competed for GB in the sport so I always had an interest and I took up the disciplines one by one, having previously been a swimmer. “Fencing is my favourite discipline. Although swimming is my strongest discipline, fencing I find the most enjoyable as there’s so much strategy and speed and I love constantly trying to develop and improve. “My biggest achievement to date was winning both the mixed and men’s relays at the 2019 European Championships on back to back days. “The toughest part of the sport is the physical demands of training and the time it takes. Having to train for five sports and engage in strength and conditioning requires a lot of training hours and it’s fair to say we work every muscle in the body. Having said this, I absolutely love it! “Most of my preparation immediately leading into a big competition will be making sure that I’m ready mentally more than physically. From a physical perspective, all the hard work has been completed and I need to trust that what I’ve done is enough for me to compete at the top. Therefore before a competition it’s about finalising my mental preparation so that I’m in the right head space when the first day starts. “I’m looking forward to the World Championships in Bath and having the home crowd to cheer me and the rest of team GB. I had a home crowd once before at the European Championships in 2019 and it was awesome. They really help that bit extra when you are competing.”
UIPM Modern Pentathlon and Laser Run World Championships 2023, 19–28 August, Pentathlon GB’s National Training Centre, University of Bath. Daily tickets are priced from £5, with entry to Pentathlon Finals Day on Sunday 27 August – when both the men’s and women’s champions will be crowned – priced from £15 for adults and £5 concessions. All tickets in the accessible stand are £5 throughout the event. Visit www.wch2023.org