Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Modern Pentathlon

More on Olympic sports!

Andrew and I were talking about the modern pentathlon the other day and that conversation led me to decide that I should become an ambassador for it.

I became familiar with the modern pentathlon because I watch this TV show, Lost Girl. You should watch it. It's funny, dark, twisted and great if you like a little mythical fantasy thrown in with your narrative. It will also lead you to the conclusion that Canadians are far less uptight about sex than we are. (It's an import shown on SyFy.) There is all kinds of it in Lost Girl. Including with the handsome shape shifting wolf dude, played by Kris Holden-Reid. (I promise you that despite how I've explained the show sounding, it's about 1000x better as plot goes than True Blood.)

As I do when I'm watching a show, I pulled up his bio on IMDb, because he's handsome and I want to know more about him as an actual human being (read: want to know if he's married), and discovered that he got into acting to support his training for the modern pentathlon.

My brain then thought, "The what now? What's the modern pentathlon?" I know about the decathlon and the heptathlon. I even know winter biathlon, where you ski and shoot. Never heard of the modern pentathlon.

The modern pentathlon is five events (obvs, penta): fencing, shooting, swimming, running, show jumping. "Well that sounds pretty awesome. Those are all events I would like to participate in, tell me more!" was the progression of my thought process. So I, naturally, consulted wikipedia. Which is pretty light on the subject, actually. (Even the NBC site on the sport calls it "the most obscure sport on the Olympic program". Which considering synchronized swimming is a thing you can win medals in is saying something.)

Some people say it's actually four events because the running and shooting are combined. Shoot five targets, run a thousand meters, shoot, run a thousand meters, shoot, run. That's bananas! Way more badass than the actual shooting competitions at the Olympics. Have you watched any of that? It is far more nerds with contraptions than action movie heroics. I am seriously disappointed in you, Olympic shooting.

The horse you ride in the show jumping portion has to be "unfamiliar". This led to plenty of jokes about what that means. How unfamiliar is it? Do you get to buy it a drink before you mount (heh) it? At least serenade it with a rendition of "Call Me Maybe"?

In all seriousness, I did wonder where the horses came from. If they are "unfamiliar" do you have to bring your own horse but then someone else rides it? Or is there like a pool of horses and you draw one, like in bronc riding at a rodeo? Turns out it's closer to the latter. The event provides the horses, who all have pentathlon experience and are suited to the event, at least according to this forum that Andrew found. Because it's not like you can take just any horse and be all, "Yeah, go jump over that 5' hurdle." Most horses would throw your ass. (Horse knowledge!: they are prey animals and herd animals. Horses are constantly terrified that every new adventure is going to kill them and thus reluctant to do anything they have not previously done a thousand times. Like jump a fence.)

My next thought was, "Well, as cool as fencing, running, riding, shooting, and swimming are, these aren't exactly 'modern' pursuits. Especially fencing and riding, why the hell is this the 'modern' pentathlon?" I hope you asked the same question because I'm about to answer it.

The 'modern' pentathlon was created with the modern Olympiad a hundred years ago, replacing the events of the ancient Greek pentathlon. The pentathlon existed to test the skills of soldiers and in the ancient Olympics that was running, wrestling, javelin, long jump and discus. Ya know, things you would do in combat before we all had guns. So a hundred years ago, some dude  Pierre de Coubertin (who seems incredibly fascinating on his own), founded the modern Olympic games, based on the ideals of the ancient Greeks, and replaced the skills needed by soldiers in ancient Greece with skills useful to a soldier a hundred years ago. So the 'modern' pentathlon isn't all that modern, as I don't think most of our soldiers are all that familiar with fencing now a days as a useful skill in battle. But in the Queen's army in India at the height of imperialism it was probably a valuable skill and one worthy of testing a soldier on.

Regardless of how "modern" the modern pentathlon is, it seems interesting and is on the final weekend of the Olympics so you too can pick up supporting this sport! It starts with fencing on August 11th, streaming "live" on NCBOlympics.com. (I say live because holy wow does their streamer suck. Bitching about how awful NBC has been during the Olympics, while gobbling up whatever they give us, could be its own Olympic sport.) Let's all jump on board this running, swimming, shooting, fencing, riding competition! And then maybe sometime in the future the US can medal in it, with our support, something we haven't done since 1960.

In other Olympic news:

There's a picture out there of Oscar Pistorius, the double amputee who competed in the London games, hanging with the little girl in the yellow dress that I can't look at without bawling. Go find it. And when Kirani James, who I forgive completely for going to Bama, traded name bibs with Pistorius after beating him in the semifinals of the 400, I cried some more. Kirani James just seems so terribly nice and him winning the first gold medal ever for Grenada was amazing.

I was searching for the music of the Olympics on spotify play lists (yes, I'm a nerd) and I came across the Eton Boating Song. It is jaunty and I imagine it has been played from the banks of Eton Dorney for hundreds of years as boys row down the river and I love it. Naturally.

LSU alumn, and recipient of a NYT hit piece, Lolo Jones is running in 100m hurdles final in about twenty minutes so check it out on whatever feed, legal or illegal, you can. Geaux Lolo! (Update: Lolo came in fourth. Oh well. Good showing!)

Also: US women's soccer, actually women's soccer in general for a complete lack of diving, kicks ass. Sorry, Canada!

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