|ESPN.com: Page 2||[Print without images]|
|Jeff Merron is, as they say, "hitting the wall."|
|Patton's Pesky Pistol|
Chad Senior, who finished sixth in the Sydney Games after leading through the first three events, explained the difficulty of the first event:
"You have to deal with the nerves. And coming from a swimming background, that's very difficult because swimming, it's easy -- you're nervous, you're jumping around, the gun goes off, boom, you're not nervous anymore, you're going like a madman. Shooting, you have to carry that nervous energy throughout the event and control it. And coming from a sport like swimming or running, I'm used to having an outlet. Shooting you don't have an outlet. You have to pretend like it's not bothering you. But it's bothering you a lot. If people could see what's going on in your head for the shoot, that would be exciting. Usually mine's just kind of -- I don't know, I'm terrified."
Terrified because a couple of bad shots and you've dug yourself into a hole that's awfully hard to get out of, even with four events remaining.
George S. Patton understood this. The future general, then a lieutenant in the army, might have won the first Olympic pentathlon, in 1912. But he blew the shooting competition and finished fifth. One of the greatest military leaders in U.S. history was a lousy shot.
|Jeff Merron gets a lesson in proper fencing position from Seth Kelsey.|
|The French Connection|
The Modern Pentathlon is a totally artificial sport, created expressly for the Olympics by the father of the modern Games, Pierre de Coubertin. He was looking for the ideal all-around athlete and sportsman, and thought that the combination of swimming and running (physical), shooting (mental), fencing (intellectual), and riding (adaptability and self-control) would capture that ideal.
De Coubertin came up with an inspiring tale designed, it seems, to draw prospects to the new sport.
A member of the French cavalry is told to deliver a message, and takes off on a horse he's never ridden before. Along the way, he loses the horse when he dismounts to fight an enemy soldier in a sword duel. He gets out of that mess by shooting the soldier, takes off on a long run on foot, and finally delivers the crucial communiqué after swimming across a raging river.
Perhaps this story helps explain why so many pentathletes, from the first Olympic competition in 1912 to today, are military men and women.
|Anita Allen and her horse are in tip-top condition.|
|The Toughest Thing|
"Perfection," Chad Senior says, is the most difficult thing to achieve in the pentathlon. Chad knows: he dropped to sixth in the Sydney Olympics after leading through the first three events, largely because of a disastrous riding performance on an uncooperative horse (riders don't know which horse they'll ride).
"Covering all the events to the best of your ability is the hardest, because it takes a little luck. Some days you feel great running, you feel great swimming, you feel great fencing, you got a good horse, and you don't succumb to the nerves in shooting."
Chad makes it clear that those days are extraordinarily rare. If any of the best in the world achieve this, they're likely to win. But if you can keep things even, balance out the slightly-below-average performances with the slightly above ones, and then hit a home run or two in the others, you've got a good chance at winning.
So this trait -- steadiness -- seems to be the key. You can learn it, a little. But it seems, largely, a character prerequisite.
-- Jeff Merron
|Chad Senior, pentathlete and Olympic spokesperson.|