So its just showjumping but without the horses?
We're nearly done talking about modern pentathlon, I promise.
Welcome to the latest edition of SSWOS, the Sick, Sad World of Sports, where sports is the mechanism by which we learn about the depths of shithousery and assholery and dipshittery of the human soul.
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So its just showjumping but without the horses?
Our long search of six months is finally over. We have a new fifth discipline.
UIPM - World Pentathlon @WorldPentathlon📢 New 5th discipline update 📢 Obstacle discipline selected for testing after leading over 60 proposals in the race to replace the Riding discipline in #ModernPentathlon Full update 👇 https://t.co/xqD7e9OUIW https://t.co/BcSeK9Wf7N
It’s obstacle racing, which had been hinted at and is very unsurprising. The UIPM had been clear that the new discipline would not fall under the remit of any of the existing IOC sports feds, would complement the pentathletes’ existing skillset and about a dozen other criteria, which really narrowed down the options to Gambian pillow fighting (this was not a joke) and obstacle sports.
Closing down the UIPM because modern pentathlon is patently ridiculous was apparently not an option.
In its modern form, obstacle racing’s lack of tradition means there’s a myriad of ways of actually run an obstacle race. The official sub-sport of obstacle course racing appears to be a mass start event, with varying distance on varying terrains2. The sub-sport of ninja is a solo time trial event and it’s basically what you see on TV on Ninja Warrior. It seems likely that the UIPM would like to cash in on the popularity of the latter which, if 18 participants are going to go through in about 15 minutes, means the course itself will be quite short. Then again, if the UIPM wanted to cash in on anything, they should have done this fifteen years ago when parkour was enough of a Thing to form the basis of the opening scene of Casino Royale.
It feels very much like the UIPM had already worked out the solution and was waiting for the appropriate crisis to put it into action. After the Horse Punch, which was not great optics but hardly the kind of thing big federations would respond to by fundamentally altering the fabric of the sport, the UIPM was quick to act, refusing to waste this crisis to do what’s needed to be done since the early 90s. Everything that’s happened since then has been on rails: the proposal to change the fifth discipline, roundly ignoring the athletes’ consultation, the passage through the congress and the working group to decide the new discipline. The only sticking point has been the athletes themselves but, as I have pointed out repeatedly, none of them have any clout3 so no one cares what they think.
As Taishu Sato from Japan took to the stage for his fencing contest against Italian Giuseppe Mattia Parisi, Sato displayed a t-shirt decorated with the message "Keep Riding & Change the Rules".
The protest as captured on the stream:
Too little, too late, buddy.
Perhaps its best to think of this as a joint venture of sorts. The UIPM has a ticket to the Olympics but desperately needs something to keep its ticket valid. That something has to be relatively modern, in line with the recent additions of break, skateboarding, climbing, etc to the Olympics program, as well as cheap to run, compatible with the current format and animal free. World Obstacle wants a ticket to the Olympics and ticks most of these boxes but lacks the political clout and widespread popularity to gain admission by itself. This crisitunity presents something of a shortcut to give itself a boost of relevance.
The implementation is going to take some time. The UIPM will need to decide on a obstacle sub-sport, schedule test events, presumably starting sometime after the final World Cup round in a few weeks. The 2024 Paris Olympics will still feature horses, but for the last time4. The UIPM will need to demonstrate how this new format will be an asset to the Olympics before the end of year review by the IOC, which be the basis for deciding whether to reintroduce modern pentathlon into the 2028 program, from which it has currently been excluded.
I don’t know if this change really solves the UIPM’s problems. The men’s final of the Budapest World Cup was on the weekend and happened to be on while I was making dinner and trying to get my daughter to sleep. I briefly had the fencing up.
But didn’t really get to watch it. When I sat down later, I realised I had no real compulsion to watch any of it anyway.
I just have zero interest in watching showjumping.
The fencing bonus round format is so short, being won on single touches in less than 30 seconds, that it lacks the build-up of tension that a good fencing bout does.
Swimming is not interesting unless there’s an Australian winning a gold medal in a proper pool.
Laser run is fine.
I did go back to watch the laser run the next day5, when the athlete who started in thirteenth ended up winning. You have to wonder what the point of the first three events were. If the laser run is the only compelling and is the decisive leg of the pentathlon, then get rid of the rest and make the laser run longer (or amalgamate the laser run into obstacle and rebrand the whole thing). Or, again, just give up on this purposeless sporting hodge podge.
Part of the problem is the pace at which the pentathlon is now run. The entire pentathlon is done inside two hours, with each athlete getting a minute or two of screen time. What this format lacks is the ability - and I’m being deadly serious here - to look at your phone while following along. American sports have this in spades. The frequent breaks of baseball or American football allow for a leisurely scroll of Twitter or Discord between plays. Even rugby and soccer have down moments that allow for that, though not to the same extent. The pentathlon demands your attention for fifteen straight minutes, then gives you a ten minute break between disciplines, long enough for your attention to wander elsewhere. If you want to go to the toilet or make dinner or look at your phone, good luck figuring out if anything important happened in the meantime. The pacing is a mess and reflects a lack of understanding about what modern sports audiences want. The Super Bowl takes four hours to complete and is largely boring as shit6 but it’s one of the most watched individual sporting events each year. The length of time isn’t necessarily the issue, it’s the pace that matters7.
The other issue is that the new look pentathlon will have two classical events, fencing and swimming, and two revised events, obstacle and laser run. Together, they don’t feel contemporary or complementary. The UIPM could probably get away with swimming, especially if its the first leg, but fencing is a relic of a world that does not have Ninja Warrior or streaming or social media or any sort of commercial accountability. This begs the question: do the UIPM need to seriously look at light sabre duels or MMA or some sort of gaming to replace the fencing leg? Once the precedent has been set - that the sport can be modified at will to address existential crises8 - it will be interesting to see what it morphs into over the coming years. Presuming pentathlon survives, of course.
At best, this is probably a stay of execution. Juan Antonio Samaranch, former IOC president, is a UIPM vice president so I would assume has the connections required to finalise this reform with the IOC, especially as he himself suggested modern pentathlon get rid of the horses following the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.
But it’s hard to see these changes having the desired effect. What fans the sport had in the Old World will probably be turned off by the changes and the changes aren’t necessarily interesting enough to cut through in new places. If pentathlon fails to rate, something that the IOC will have increasingly good data on as streaming takes over from traditional broadcast, then it’ll get the boot when cricket or karate or some other sport wants its place. Once it’s gone, I can’t imagine it coming back because who will miss it?
The grace, the beauty of sports
Very normal things
I acknowledge it’s been quiet around here. A series of short working weeks has, ironically, robbed me of the time I would normally spend writing this by compressing five days into four. I also haven’t felt there was too compelling a story to write about (I haven’t had the will or time to watch USFL or FCF) so I ended up trying to learn about the Ukrainian power grid, an investment of time which will hopefully pay off, starting with a re-watch of the Chernobyl mini-series. If you see stuff that’s probably up my alley, feel free to tag me in it. Anyway -
Yes… ha ha ha… yes!
I don’t have anything intelligent to add.
This was really interesting. The way this story is presented suggests there’s a lot more flexibility in how the Germans approach the structure of their league than, say, the English. That the word “play-offs” was even printed was astonishing.
On one hand, I suspect that long periods of dominance always trigger this sort of introspection and thinking about means to address how boring its become but entropy will take care of this in any sufficiently deep league, which the Bundesliga definitely is.
I also think that ordinary people, despite what the sickos who spend too much time writing and talking about sport may claim, just really love winners. If competitive balance was an issue for its fans, professional soccer would have fallen over a long time ago.
Getting rid of the minimal commercial regulations the Bundesliga has would have the complete opposite effect, a fact so obvious it barely needs stating. But journalistic balance and all that.
Lol. Remember, meritocracy can only exist within sports formats. It does not exist between sports formats, which is why promotion and relegation should be protected by law from any foreign influences that might otherwise improve things.
I guess if you have a big stadium-like asset with a lot of land, why not try to have as much stuff happening there as possible? Can only assume they’ll put on some live music during the drinks break:
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There’s some great pub trivia for you.
There’s a beach version. They probably want to think about a snow/ice version.
The current men’s gold medallist has only 800 more Twitter followers than my dumb rugby league account.
It would actually make a lot of sense to just scrap it now, with more than two years out, but not sure what the approval process would be.
No one has re-watched the Patriots beat the Rams, not even the most ardent Brady boy.
The only inviolable tradition sport has.