Friday, 5 February 2010

Modern Pentathlon and the Cold War

Twenty years ago some big changes in the world were happening, especially in Europe. The world was basically splitted into two blocs that can be understood under the military alliances, the Warsaw Pact and NATO, which opposed communism and capitalism. In the end of 1989 the two main symbols of this division went down, the Iron Curtain and the Berlin Wall. The Cold War was coming to an end.

I've read recently a book about the happenings in Eastern Europe in 1989, written by a journalist of Newsweek Magazine who was a witness of what happened in Eastern Europe in the mentioned year. The book, written by Michael Meyer, is named "The year that changed the world" - a year that was a turning point just like 1968, considering the recent post-World Wars history. The book brings a close(r) view to what happened in Hungary, East Germany, Poland and, in smaller extension, in Czechoslovakia and Romania, focused on the last days of the regimes.

And what does modern pentathlon has to do with the Cold War? First of all, like every sport in that period, the rivalry between the blocs was transpassed to the sport, which was used also for propaganda, especially at Olympics. Both sides put a lot of effort in sports for top places in the Olympics medal table, and pentathlon itself has a strong link to militarism, which turns it into a special case in the "sports cold war".

And what were the consequences of the end of the Cold War to modern pentathlon? I think one of them was a bigger exchange between countries. If we take a look at "results by bloc" and comparing historical results of Olympics and World Championships with the most recent results (something can be found in this blog) we can see Eastern European countries still have a big role in the sport, despite some good and competitive teams from countries that were allies to USA in the 80's. Another outcome from the end of the Cold War was the end of USSR, which affected the start lists of Olympics, that have national quotas - in last Olympics men competition, for example, the podium was filled only by athletes from the former USSR (1 from Russia and 2 from Lithuania). Even though it was expected from the countries that once belonged to the Warsaw Pact to decrease investments in militarism, it semms the sport wasn't seriously affected since they managed to keep the excellence after so many years.

Since I recomended one book, I'll introduce two movies as well. The first one has a clear match with this article, "Pentathlon", directed by Bruce Malmuth and starring Dolph Lundgren. I've actually didn't watch this movie, I couldn't find it in DVD but surely it might be available in the internet somewhere for download. I wouldn't expect anything more than I would expect from an action movie (I mean artistic quality), but it seems a good entertainment and it's interesting for showing the sport within the context of the Cold War (and all manicheism it could carry, but again we can't be much demanding). An interesting movie released quite recently was "Children of Glory", from Hungary. It's not about the opposition West-East, but an opposition Soviet Union-Hungary in 1956, and the water polo men teams match in Olympics in the same year. Click the name of the movie to watch the trailer: "Pentathlon" and "Children of Glory".

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