It got nowhere near the publicity of the equestrian events. It’s a sport invented for the Olympics, but one few people understand. But I found myself compelled by the modern pentathlon World Cup in Greenwich Park over the weekend – and that was only seeing half of the story.
Each day started for the 36 athletes at Crystal Palace with fencing and swimming at Crystal Palace. Then they were taken in a bus to Greenwich Park for a show jumping competition, followed by the “combined event” – a 3km cross-country run, interspersed with target shooting. After time handicaps are taken into account, the winner of the combined event is declared the world’s finest all-round athlete. It seems a quaint mixture of disciplines – I almost expected Saturday’s men’s competition to include a final event involving leaving a box of Milk Tray in a woman’s bedroom.
But the show jumping alone showed how tough this contest is, with competitors receiving a random horse, and having to control their steed around a tricky set of jumps. Ooohs and aaahs rang out as bars clattered from the jumps, a fair few of us winced as riders were thrown from their horses, and on Saturday one Ukrainian got a sound booing for beating his horse for refusing to jump. By contrast, the rider who stroked and patted his unwilling ride, coaxing it into a successful second jump, was roundly cheered.
Competitors lose points for mistakes while jumping or refusals, or even not stopping to salute the judge in the right place. A suave voiceover guided a stand full of newcomers through the contest. You could tell the crowd was largely drawn up of people who are used to seeing the London Marathon run past their homes – the final contestant in each day’s combined event was cheered by the crowd to the finishing line, with Saturday’s runner even stopping to take a bow.
The combined event was difficult to follow from the stands – it was hard to see the laser shooting contest at the other end of the arena, and much of the running took place on a cross country course outside arena. On Sunday, it was much more rewarding to watch the women from the park – with trainers yelling them on as they pounded the course.
It was great to see bits of both days – I was even tempted to travel to Crystal Palace to see the start of the women’s contest, but getting there for 7.55am on a Sunday morning didn’t appeal somehow… there were some downsides, like some over-zealous stewarding and not allowing ticketholders to leave the arena in the hour-long gap between events. But on the whole, it was an impressive spectacle, and I wouldn’t be surprised if, at some point in the post-2012 future, some bright spark proposes doing it all again.
Over the weekend, the stand seemed pretty much full up, but I’ve had other comments about problems getting tickets from Greenwich Council – read Izzyrocks and Damien here. I wasn’t at the equestrian test events, but understand the first day had few spectators – it certainly seems that Greenwich Council could have been given some more tickets. (It had 1,000 tickets, for which it had 12,000 applications.) I’d be interested to hear other people’s experiences.
In retrospect, it would also have been a good idea to have had a big screen erected elsewhere in the park, or elsewhere in Greenwich, so people who couldn’t get tickets could see what the fuss is about. But these are test events for a reason, and with others to come in the run-up to the Olympics, hopefully something can be arranged for the other tests in the months to come.