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Scandal-ridden modern pentathlon is replacing horse riding with an obstacle course for athletes. The sport's Olympic champion says it's 'insulting.'

May 4, 2022, 22:39 IST
Joseph Choong is the current men's Olympic pentathlon champion.Getty/Dan Mullan
  • Modern pentathlon has chosen obstacle racing as its new fifth discipline after the removal of horse riding.
  • The change came after a lengthy, embarassing scandal which began when a horse was punched at the Olympics.

Modern pentathlon Olympic gold medalist Joe Choong has described the sport's decision to replace its scrapped horse riding discipline with obstacle racing as "insulting."

Riding was removed as one of the modern pentathlon's five disciplines by the sport's international governing body, the Union Internationale de Pentathlon Moderne (UIPM), after a German coach was seen striking a horse at the Tokyo Olympics Games.

Despite calls from athletes for there to be reform to the rules rather than for riding to be scrapped, the UIPM announced Monday that two variations of "Obstacle Discipline" had been selected for testing as the sport's new fifth discipline.

Little is known about exactly how the new discipline will work, but The Guardian newspaper spoke to senior UIPM official Joël Bouzou about the new event, who said: "With obstacle racing there are moments when you have to jump, hang, and have to choose options."

The UIPM said the new discipline, which was selected from a pool over 60 proposals by a working group, was chosen because it would reduce costs, improve universal participation, and is "compatible with the DNA of modern pentathlon."


Choong, who won gold in the men's pentathlon event in Tokyo, disagrees.

"I think that's just lip service" Choong told Insider. "I don't know how anything other than the original five sports can fit into the DNA of modern pentathlon. One of our unique selling points is the diversity of the sport and the fact that we are the original Olympic sport founded by Pierre de Coubertin.

"At our essence are these five core sports and at least we have a reason for why those five sports have been put together.

"But now, I just can't see how this new five sport event is going to look credible, in the eyes of the public, from the eyes of the IOC, this now just becomes four or five completely different sports mashed together.

"We're not just a pick-and-mix sport where you just choose the five most convenient sports and chuck them all together. We are a legitimate Olympic sport and we've got a very proud history. I think it's quite insulting to throw that out so readily."


Choong also hit out at the UIPM for failing to fully and fairly involve athletes in choosing the sport's new fifth discipline.

The 26-year-old was one of a number of athletes which, under the moniker Pentathlon United, sent a signed letter to International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach on Monday calling for an independent investigation into the sport, which it says is in "crisis."

The group said in its letter that over 95% of 310 athletes surveyed are unhappy with the way the change of discipline has been handled.

"Every athlete was allowed to submit ideas to the UIPM athlete committee, but there was no option to talk about retaining riding, the committee were only interested in talking about new sports, which just entirely prevented any open discussion between athletes and our representatives on the committee" Choong said.

"Also, they hosted an athlete consultation, like a seminar on Zoom. Their report said it was 26 athletes from 22 countries, but I know that the sign-up process to get the representatives from each country onto that call was not open and transparent.


"The athletes committee a lot of the time just went directly to whichever athlete they wanted on the call."

Choong said the representative from Great Britain at the seminar "wasn't a senior or junior on the British team," and that he felt he wasn't asked to be present because of his opposition to the changes.

"It was pretty much a headhunting process," he said. "You could say it was finding athletes they thought might be more agreeable to the new sport than horse riding."

Modern pentathlon was thrown into the spotlight at the Tokyo Games when Kim Raisner, the coach of German rider Annika Schleu, punched her horse when it was refusing to jump during the show jumping portion of the event.

Raisner was swiftly removed from her position before, however amid backlash from animal welfare groups and revelations about the modern pentathlon's history of neglecting animal welfare, the UIPM to decide to remove the sport's riding section in the hope of keeping its Olympic status.

Modern pentathlete Annika Schleu pictured crying on her horse after the horse refused to jump.Iván Alvarado/Reuters

It didn't work and modern pentathlon was subsequently left off the provisional list of sports for the 2028 Los Angeles Olympic Games.

Speaking to Insider in December following the news that the sport had been provisionally omitted from LA 2028, Choong questioned the leadership of the sport.

The UIPM has been headed by the same man, Dr. Klaus Schormann, for almost three decades.

Schormann — who a number of modern pentathletes have criticized in interviews with Insider — was re-elected for an eighth term as president in an unopposed election in November.

"The direction our sport has been led over the last 28 years has failed to excite new audiences and expand the sport," said Choong.


"Now, we are closer to Olympic exclusion than we ever have been before. It makes me wonder what the outcome would have been if the sport had tried to fix our problems rather than just bury our heads in the sand and just get rid of them.

The UIPM did not immediately respond to Insider's request for comment.

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