Aristotle once said that “the athletes in the Pentathlon are most beautiful.” Whilst the disciplines have changed somewhat since the 8th century B.C, the Pentathlon’s position as one of the most prestigious Olympic events has not. Its origins are found in the romantic adventures of a liaison officer whose horse was brought down in enemy territory. Having defended himself with his pistol and sword, he swam across a raging river and delivered the message on foot.
Sadly, the efforts of the Oxford University team during their gruelling Christmas training week could hardly be described as beautiful or romantic.
Clinging awkwardly to horses and being outswum by schoolboys would probably not have impressed Aristotle. Then again, the athletes had a lot to live up to.
Oxford University has a long-standing record of success in the Modern Pentathlon. The pride of OUMPA is Steph Cook who won Gold at the Sydney Olympics in 2000 and was crowned World Champion in 2001. In the 2000 Olympics the silver medal was won by another OUMPA old girl, Emily deRiel. In more recent times, current student Richard Hildick-Smith (SEH) has represented Great Britain, and last year saw a newcomer to the sport, Yusuf Randera-Rees, represent South Africa in the African Championships.
The multi-disciplinary nature of the Modern Pentathlon requires a demanding array of mental and physical skills. Power is required for swimming. Manual dexterity and fast reactions are essential for success on the fencing piste. Taking an unfamiliar horse for a spin around a 1.2m show-jumping track tests an athlete’s courage. Finally, not only fitness and skill, but also focus and determination are required for the combined event which intersperses a 3km run with 3 sets of rapid, accurate, target shooting.
With BUCS, Old Blues and, of course, the Varsity match, ahead of them OUMPA’s training week may not have been pretty, but it was absolutely essential. Our athletes defied the snow and ice to take advantage of Whitgift School’s incredible facilities and coaches.
They were quickly thrown in the deep end. The week began with 7am swimming session, though once in the pool, all they really needed to get them moving was a group of schoolboys in the next lane going a little bit faster. Humiliation can be a great motivator.
At Chessington Equestrian Centre the team worked on their show jumping skills. Few of the team had much experience with horses, and there were more than a few shaky moments. Yet by the end of the week everyone was looking at ease on a horse and some had even progressed to doing a few jumps.
Somewhat relieved to be back on their own two feet the team looked for post-lunch training inspiration from the master of the training montage – Rocky Balboa. In Rocky IV they found the perfect training technique. Running across Wandsworth Park quickly turned into a full-on snowball fight followed by the traditional boys versus girls snowman rolling contest. Theirs may have been bigger but ours was most certainly better.
With Mika, the rather formidable Czech master, rolling an expert eye in disdain and belting out the likes of “You shoot like shotgun,” the athletes swiftly got back on target. Incorporating circuits with shooting to simulate the combined event competition pressures they soon learnt that, when in a hurry, the black ring isn’t quite as easy to hit as one might hope. Nevertheless, they made a lot of progress and even got some fencing work in too before the week was out.
Unfortunately, all good training camps must come to end. At least ours did in true OUMPA style back at our President’s ‘unwinding’. Aristotle would have been proud.