Czech David Svoboda Takes Gold in Men's Modern Pentathlon

The first pentathlete to cross the finish line wins gold

David Svoboda of the Czech Republic won the Olympic gold in men's modern pentathlon after matching the Olympic record in the fencing event by winning 26 of his 36 bouts.

The Czech military officer Svoboda, 27, had topped the leaderboard after fencing, but he struggled in his swimming heat and finished 17th out of the 36 athletes, making him second overall with 2,328 points. For the second and final part, the contest moved to Greenwich Park for the horse riding, running and shooting.

That's where Svoboda, the 2010 European champion, regained the lead. After the third show jumping test, he was four points ahead of Cao Zhongrong of China as they entered the final combined shoot and run event.

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Svoboda briefly lost the lead again after Zhongrong was quicker to hit the five targets but regained the lead in the running part. The 20th-ranked Svoboda overtook Zhongrong on the final one- kilometer run scoring 5,928 points and beating Zhongrong by 24 points. Adam Marosi of Hungary won the bronze with 5,836 points.

The men's sport has been dominated by Russia, represented in London by world champion and top-ranked Aleksander Lesun and Andrei Moiseev. Lesun finished fourth and Moiseev placed seventh.

It was the first Olympics held under the sport's new format. The women's event is on Sunday.

The modern pentathlon celebrates 100 years at the 2012 London Games, but don’t worry if you’ve never heard of it.

The sport doesn’t enjoy much popularity outside Eastern Europe. Recent calls for its removal from the Olympics Games even led to a vote by the International Olympic Committe last month. The event sport survived that vote, but the London Games might be the last time the modern pentathlon is featured on the Olympic schedule.

The founder of the modern games, Baron Pierre de Coubertin invented the sport. He thought the Olympics needed an event that challenged the mind as well as the body. The ancient pentathlon, where athletes competed in running, long-jump, discus, javelin and wrestling, was his inspiration.

Modern pentathlon made its debut at Stockholm Games in 1912 challenging athletes in five very different events: fencing, 200m freestyle swimming, show jumping, 3km country run and pistol shooting. These events are meant to represent the duties of a 19th century cavalry officer.

Originally the sport was staged over four or five days, but in the 1996 games, the events were piled into one day to assure a more audience-friendly experience. That was the format for the last Olympic Games at Bejing 2008, but under pressure to revamp the sport further, in 2009 some features underwent a fundamental transformation.

First, the running and shooting sections were merged into a biathlon-style event, which now gurantees an exciting and unpredictable finale. And laser guns have replaced air pistols, in an effort to make the sport more accessible and kid friendly.

The changes pose a challenge for the athletes, who have no choice but to adapt.

Thirty-six men and 36 women who have qualified for the Games through a series of World Cup events competed in all five disciplines this year. Two athletes from each country are allowed to take part. The rules are the same for men and women.

In the women’s competition, reigning champion Lena Schoneborn of Germany is the favorite to win gold.

The competition starts with fencing in the Copper Box followed by swimming in the Aquatics Centre. The athletes then leave the Olympic Park for Greenwich Park, where they will compete in a show jumping course on an unfamiliar horse. Athletes receive a score for each of these elements.

The athletes’ total scores are converted into a time handicap, which determines the starting times for the combined event. The athlete with the most points from the three previous events starts first. In that event athletes complete a 3km run, including stop-offs at shooting points where they must hit five targets. 

The first pentathlete to cross the finish line takes the gold medal.

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