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Modern pentathlon event comical, competitive
The 3,000-meter run resembled a high school cross-country race.
Some Illinois teens could have defeated almost every runner in Goudi Olympic Complex on the grassy course Thursday.
The same goes for swimming, where some of the men practically leapfrogged into the pool instead of diving into it.
Doesn't sound like Olympic-caliber competition, does it?
But combining those two disciplines with shooting, fencing and riding results in a grueling, nine-hour competition known as modern pentathlon.
Russian Andrey Moiseev won the gold medal here with 5,480 points to Lithuanian Andrejus Zadneprovskis's total of 5,428. Libor Capalini of the Czech Republic won bronze with 5,392.
Vakhtang Iagorashvili, formerly of the Republic of Georgia, had the best finish by an American in ninth place. His wife, Mary Beth, has a chance to medal in Friday's women's competition. She finished fourth in Sydney.
The sport is enormously popular among Europeans. Iagorashvili took up the sport at 15 and joined the now-defunct Soviet army as a means to fund his training.
But modern pentathlon definitely lacks glamour to make it in the U.S.
The athletes wheel around their equipment in a case twice the size of a golf bag. No caddies here.
In the riding competition, a blind draw about 20 minutes before the competition paired riders with unfamiliar horses.
At times the event was as comical as it was competitive.
Iagorashvili had little trouble maneuvering his horse on 15 jumps. Others weren't so lucky.
Marcin Horbacz of Poland had to give up his ride midway through because his horse came to an abrupt stop about a dozen times in refusing to jump. Horbacz tipped his helmet to the judges, pet the horse's mane and settled for a last-place finish overall.
Korean Han Do Ryung's horse dropped him to the ground and had to be chased. Han at least finished, albeit in 24th place among 32 athletes.
"Modern" is indeed a misnomer for the disciplines that form the pentathlon.
"I don't know why they call it modern," Iagorashvili said. "It's not."
The sport has been in Olympic competition since 1912 when Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the contemporary games, introduced it with new disciplines.
The ancient pentathlon of 708 B.C. had included the discus throw, javelin, long jump, a stadium-length race and wrestling.
De Coubertin recreated the sport to symbolize the duties of a soldier. He visualized a liaison officer on horseback with a pistol and sword who had to swim and run once his horse was killed, according to modern pentathlon archives.
Given its roots in Olympic history, the competition here was out of place in the recently constructed Olympic complex. Panathinaiko Stadium, the site of the first modern Olympics in 1896, seemed a better fit.
"It's a beautiful sport," Iagorashvili said. "It takes not just physical strength. ... It's not easy."
The gold medalist echoed his comments. Moiseev was in 19th place at the start after he struggled in shooting.
"I could not believe I could be first," he said.
He made up the deficit by finishing first in fencing and swimming.
"I did my job today," he said, "and it was a lot of work."