I'm a great beleiver in functional exercise, and an Olympics junkie. That's why I love the Modern Pentathlon. Other sports select for highly specialized athletes. Making the body ultra-specialize to do something its not evolved to do has its risks. How many little girls have had their bodies destroyed by competitive gymnastics? In pentathlon, if you specialize, you lose! You will also be less beautiful. I cite no less an authority than Aristotle, as fine a judge of young men if ever there was one... not that there's anything wrong with that.
"Beauty varies with each age. In a young man, it consists in possessing a body capable of enduring all efforts, either of the racecourse or of bodily strength, while he himself is pleasant to look upon and a sheer delight. This is why the athletes in the pentathlon are most beautiful, because they are naturally adapted for bodily exertion and for swiftness of foot.
"For one who is able to throw his legs about in a certain way, to move them rapidly and with long strides, makes a good runner; one who can hug and grapple, a good wrestler; one who can thrust away by a blow of the fist, a good boxer; one who excels in boxing and wrestling is fit for the pancratium, he who excels in all for the pentathlon.
The most perfect sportsmen, therefore, are the pentathletes because in their bodies strength and speed are combined in beautiful harmony."
Of course Aristotle spoke of the ancient pentathlon- running, jumping, wrestling, discus, javelin. These were the military arts of Aristotle's day. In Pierre de Coubertin's day, the founding of the modern Olympics in 1896, the military world had moved on. The events have changed, but the spirit of functional performance is the same.
1. Pistol - ten meter air pistol, shooter is standing. Requires body control, steady strength in the shooting arm, and a hunter's eye.
2. Fencing - epee, ONE touch, round-robin format. Fencing requires quickness, burst power, endurance, and a fighter's reflexes. One touch bouts instead of the ten normally allowed makes this very much like a duel.
3. Equestrian Show Jumping - WHAT??? Yes, that's right. Not only that, the pentathlete doesn't meet the horse until 20 minutes before the competition. This simulates an Army-issue horse, or one taken from the enemy. Horse riding is a full-body exercise, especially when controlling a horse through a course of 4 foot high obstacles.
4. Swimming - 200 meters, freestyle. Again a whole-body discipline. Strength and sustained power a must. The distance is right for fast and medium twitch muscles to excel.
5. Running - 3000 meters, cross country. A perfect distance, I think. Not anywhere near the muscle-eating endurance runs, but long enough to be exciting. And it's cross country: random terrain=functionality! As an added bit of stagecraft, the start for this last event is staggered based on the points for the first four. So, the pentathlete who crosses the line first is the champion!
I'd love to be good at all these events. I'm not. I'm a good shot and an epee fencer, I run OK at 3k, I'm a terrible swimmer and I've ridden a horse across country exactly once. No jumping.
In a future post: it's been 100 years and time for an update. What 5 events go in the Post-Modern Pentathlon? Comments welcome.
Putting the Five Ts to the Test
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