Reinventing Tradition: The Modern Pentathlon

The Pentathlon

When the Modern Pentathlon faced criticism at Rio last year for being 'irrelevant' in this day and age, there was a surprising amount of backlash defending one of the most challenging sports in the games. The condemnation of the sport, which derives from the fact that it took up space that other sports (such as surfing and even cricket), miss out on, makes wondering what the Pentathlon brings to the Games a valid question. Running and swimming are seen all over the Olympics, and how about the rather elitist riding, shooting and fencing? These sports are already under scrutiny as individual events with arguments such as 'the Olympics are for humans, not horses', and suggestions that fencing and shooting are severely out of date. Yet whilst Greek and Roman-influenced sports still prevail, this argument is flawed at best. We are still throwing spears as far as they will go, and boxing and wrestling in an identical fashion. Out of date is, therefore, hardly a label worth accepting. 

With only a small amount of competitors, averaging the age of 28 years before professional, the Modern Pentathlon consists of a serious amount of work for not much recognition. One girl determined to change the fate of the sport is Abby Lebus. At just 17 years old, the Millfield student follows a strict training routine supported by the school, with only one aim that is shared by all Pentathletes: The Olympic Games...

Introducing Abby:

How did you get into the Modern Pentathlon?

I began riding when I was 3 as my grandparents had horses and introduced me to the sport. Through this, I joined my local pony club. When I was 8, I was encouraged to try the Pony Club Tetrathlon (Riding, Running, Swimming and Shooting) and from my first experience of this, I knew that I would love the sport. I therefore wanted to progress through to the Modern Pentathlon which had the addition of fencing and consisted of 5 sports rather than the previous 4.

What makes you love the sport so much?

I love Pentathlon because of the challenge. As it consists of 5 sports, it is very unpredictable whether every one of these sports will go to plan on the competition day. I suppose I love this aspect to it; the excitement of not knowing... My favourite discipline would be the horse riding. As I originated from a riding background, I have and will always love this part of the competition. However, some might say this is the most difficult. In a Modern Pentathlon competition, on the day there is a random draw of the horse you get to ride. These horses are provided by the competition so you end up riding a horse you have never encountered. This means from never meeting a horse to having 15 minutes in warmup before jumping a 1metre show jumping course. As mad as it sounds, this is probably my favourite aspect. 

What is your training schedule like?

At Millfield, I am training at least once a day every day, with the exception of Sunday which is my rest day. It is quite full on, with swimming in the mornings and training for another discipline in the evenings. But with a 5-discipline sport, this is what it takes to maintain skill and fitness in each component.

How hard is it fitting this lifestyle in with your A Level work and a social life?

With such a tight training schedule, it is difficult to manage training with school work and social life. At school, they help me to keep a healthy balance between them all. For example, at the weekends I have the opportunity to work but there are often house or school social activities going on that I can get involved with. Every evening I have an allocated prep time to finish my work and revision and after this I have time to relax with my friends. It is all worked out and I am currently successfully managing everything into my busy timetable!

What do you think of all the negative press surrounding the Modern Pentathlon?

Regarding the news on the press; Modern Pentathlon is the only sport created purely for the Olympic Games (1912) and requires a mix of skill, speed and stamina. With such a diverse range of disciplines, the athletes required for Pentathlon need a diverse range of skill. Not only do you need the fitness for the practical events such as running and swimming but tactical skill is needed in the fencing and shooting aspects too. This mix of sports is what adds to the excitement and unpredictability to the sport as a whole; for example, the London 2012 female champion was eliminated in the ride of Rio 2016. Again, this is what makes Pentathlon such a unique and thrilling sport to participate in and all the more to watch.

What are your future goals in the sport?

Currently, my short term goals is to improve my fencing. Previously, fencing has been my weakest discipline and therefore had let me down within the competition as a whole. With this improving, I aim to qualify for an Under19 European Championships or World Championships within the next year and a half.

In the future as my long term goal I wish to go to the Olympic Games for Modern Pentathlon. 

Stay tuned and follow Abby's journey by following her on instagram (@abbylebus_pentathlon) and by subscribing to our newsletter found on the homepage.