Elena Micheli is “heartbroken” that horse riding will not be part of modern pentathlon beyond next year’s Paris Olympics but the world champion told Reuters that obstacle racing was the way forward for the sport.
Modern pentathlon, which traditionally features fencing, swimming, equestrian show jumping, pistol shooting and running, was plunged into a scandal at the Tokyo Games in 2021 when a coach struck a horse that refused to jump a fence.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) dropped the sport from its initial list for the 2028 Los Angeles Games but approved its inclusion last month after global governing body UIPM replaced horse riding with obstacle racing.
The sport, created by modern Olympics founder Pierre de Coubertin and part of the Games since 1912, will continue in its traditional format in France next year before the switch.
“The idea that Paris will be the last edition with horse riding breaks my heart,” Italian Micheli, the 2022 and 2023 individual world champion, told Reuters via email.
“Obstacle racing has obviously been a useful substitution in economical, entertainment and timing terms, even if they’re two different worlds.
“It’s a bittersweet emotion for riding lovers. But it’s the one that gives us the possibility to keep taking part in the Olympics. That’s what we need.”
Olympic champion Joe Choong of Britain said last year he may walk away from the sport if the UIPM replaced equestrianism, sparking fears others may follow suit, but Micheli urged athletes to give obstacle racing a chance.
“Modern pentathlon has always been a sport of arrangements and changes,” Micheli added.
“Pentathletes are characterised by a spirit of arrangement and we fit difficult situations, we adapt ourselves to achieve our goals. I guess that it would be one more attempt for us to follow the change and put ourselves in a new challenge.
“Before making a big decision as the one to quit practising this sport, give it a try and only then make your decision.”
Yasser Hefny, the chairman of the UIPM athletes committee, said there could have been an exodus from the sport if it had lost its Olympic status and that obstacle racing could bring more people in.
“Running and obstacles are something we all do by nature,” Hefny said. “Shooting and fencing are technical sports. They can be learned and developed without an age barrier.
“What remains is swimming, which must be learned from childhood. An experienced obstacle athlete who has practiced swimming can integrate into the sport easily.”
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