My children’s father was a silver medalist in the 1964 Olympics in Japan, before they were born, but they grew up watching the games with their Dad with excitement and wonder.
He was in the Air Force and a member of the Modern Pentathlon Team. It’s not a very well known sport in the United States, but has been very popular in Europe for many years. Pentathlon is a composite athletic event, encompassing target shooting, fencing, swimming, equestrian Show Jumping and cross-country running. Pentathlon games are an optimum blend of an athlete’s strength, skill, timing, endurance and determination. Each contestant must participate in all five sporting events, one after the other in order to win the pentathlon.
Originally an Ancient Greek Pentathlon, a primitive version of the modern day pentathlon was introduced during 708 BC for the soldier athlete. The sport comprised five games - Discus, Javelin, long jump, foot race and wrestling. Discus, Javelin and Long jump were categorized solely as pentathlon events and were generally not played as individual sports. These games were a test of a participant’s strength and timing.
The epithet modern is important to discern it from the ancient athletics – none of the events of modern pentathlon were part of the ancient Olympics. The modern pentathlon was invented by the Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympic Games. As the events of the ancient pentathlon were modeled after the skills of the ideal soldier of that time, Coubertin created the contest to simulate the experience of a 19th century cavalry soldier behind enemy lines: he must ride an unfamiliar horse, fight with pistol and sword, swim, and run. The event was first contested at the 1912 Olympic Games, and was won by Swedish athlete Gösta Lilliehöök.
Modern pentathlon originated from the military and was a test of the officers’ courage, co-ordination, physical fitness, self-discipline and flexibility. The pentathlon games initially lasted for five days with one event contested each day. In 1984, it was made a four-day event, with both pistol shooting and cross-country run conducted on the fourth and final day. Since 1996, the pentathlon is held as a single day event with all five events contested one after another.
Their Dad’s achievements have always been source of great pride for all four of them and they each have their share of pictures and souvenirs of his days as a member of the Pentathlon Team. So it is fun for all of us to look back over the years and enjoy our own family memories of the Olympics.
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