Thursday, 13 May 2010

Pentathletes from the past: George S. Patton (USA)

George Smith Patton III (November 11, 1885 - December 21, 1945) was an United States Army officer most famous for his leadership commanding corps and armies as a general in World War II. He was also widely known for his controversial outspokenness. (Read more in his Wikipedia article). Patton was the focus of the epic 1970 Academy-Award winning (also known as Oscar) movie Patton. He participated in the 1912 Stockholm Olympic Games in the first-ever modern pentathlon competition, where he finished in 5th place.

Patton was the leader of the troops that liberated the Czech city of Plzeň on May 06, 1945 and most of Western Bohemia. During the communist era in former Czechoslovakia (1945-1989) there was no recognition for the role American troops had in liberating this part of the country. Since 2006 is held in the city an European Youth B competition named after him at PSC Klub.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Pentathletes that changed their nationalities

There are several athletes that represented more than one country in their carrers. Many reasons can lead an athlete to change his/her nationality and I'm afraid I won't list all of them here, but let's go. The most common situation are athletes that have dual citizenship - because were born in a certain country and raised in another or because the parents are foreigners and then their children are entitled to have the same citizenship. Then we have the changes in countries' boundaries that automatically can change the athlete's nationality (like formers countries USSR, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia). And last but not least, athletes that decide to move to another country for any reason (political, sponsorship and training facilities, etc). Some people, especially those with strong nationalistic feelings, say it's wrong and that athletes behave as mercenaries, when actually every case is unique and afterall it's a decision up to and a right of the athlete to choose. If it can sound disappointing that an athlete had support in his original country to later compete for another, we should remember that the development of the sport needs the exchange between countries and it's quite common countries with many top athletes having some of them moving to another country where they can have more chance of making a national team or get sponsors. Let's have a look at some cases of pentathletes that changed their nationalities, even though I don't know the reasons behind most of these changes so I can't tell much about them, just point them.

Winner of 2010 Men's World Cup #4 (Budapest, Hungary) and bronze medal in 2010 WC#3 (Medway, Great Britain), Aleksandr Lesun, used to represent Belarus and now is in competition carrying the Russian flag.

The United States adopted at least two high profile foreign pentathletes. Olympic champion and sport legend Janusz Peciak competed for his mother country Poland but has been living in the USA for more than 25 years where he is the head coach of the US Pentathlon team. Vakhtang Iagorashvili came from Soviet Union (more specifically from the republic of Georgia) and actually represented USA in international competitions as athlete and won several competitions.

Alexander Parygin is another pentathlete from former Soviet Union who later competed for one of the Soviet republics (Kazakhstan, winning gold in 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games) and later moved to Australia. He couldn't compete in Australian Olympic Games (Sydney 2000) but represented Australia in 2004 Athina Games and missed 2008 Beijing Games because of an appeal from the British Federation (the event that earned him a spot in the Games didn't have riding because of health concerns).

The current Pan-American champion, Andrei Gheorghe who represents Guatemala, was born in Romania and is son of a former pentathlete. Samantha Harvey, born in USA, competed for USA and later for Brazil (she's married to a Brazilian).

Doping, cheating and Modern Pentathlon

According to UIPM website, modern pentathlon is a drug-free sport because "Since the One Day Format has been created and due to the permanent efforts of the UIPM, Modern Pentathlon has become drug-free sport. The One-Day format has discouraged prohibited behaviors as there is no interest in using drugs for shooting when fencing comes right after it. Anabolic substances are not useful in a sport that does not place the success of the winner only on his physical skills, but in his overall physical and intellectual harmony."

Indeed, there's no record of doping cases in the sport for some years already. The last case I found was of 2001, a male athlete who was caught in a test with an anabolic steroid. This athlete is currently active and was out for 2 years after he failed the anti-doping test. I'm not publishing his name here because I don't know the circumstances he got the substance, and he got his suspension and now is clear. Doping is such a shame and a threaten to sport (see what happens to cycling and weightlifting) and goes agaisnt the fair play spirit in which modern pentathlon was idealized. Some athletes, many times influenced/pressured by their coaches or by sponsors and wishing good results take the wrong and easy way of doping. There are also other cases like accidental doping (athlete don't know what he is taking, it can be in pill for a headache or even food) and the substances that are prohibited just for the sake of it and are not enhancing performance substances (like the "social doping" also known as recreational drugs or even substances that actually don't apply for certain sports). We can't be naive though, and it's always responsability of the athlete and his/her staff - I personally agree with the current WADA policy of penalizing (almost) every case, and how serious is the case is usually taken into account when the tribunal sanctions a suspension and I'm not trying to excuse any athlete here, just to show that are different cases, anyway I'm not a specialist in medical or legal questions and this must be told.

The first doping case in Olympic Games ever happened with a pentathlete from Sweden, in 1968 Mexico Games - he had too much alcohol in his blood. In the next Olympic Games, there was a doping scandal (check page 24) in 1972 München Olympics where 14 to 16 pentathletes failed the anti-doping test that showed tranquilizers in their bodies above the permited concentration (tranquilizer is used for the shooting event). The last case in Olympics happened in 1988 Seoul Games, when an Australian pentathlete failed the test for caffeine. All this cases had much controversy about if the limits and rules were too strict or even if correctly established or not. Anyway, any conscious use of enhancing performance is clearly a cheating, but back in the 60's and 70's not only the doping was being developed in several labs but also the rules were not very well settled. Too bad, by the way, the doping is always a step further the anti-doping methods/knowledge.

Recently many cases of doped horsers raised, but modern pentathlon is supposed to not have this problem since the horses are provided by organizers and drawn to the pentathletes (which makes the competition more balanced since in equestrian having more expensive horses can mean better horses - not to mention the management benefit because it's very expensive to travel with horses).

Surely the biggest cheating scandal in modern pentathlon was not related to doping. In 1976 Montréal Olympic Games, top Soviet pentathlete Boris Onischenko was disqualified due to an illegal modification to the grip of his épée that allowed him to cheat in the electronic record. The cheating was dicovered by a British pentathlete. Boris was banned from the sport after his cheating was discovered.

Pentathletes from the past: András Balczó (HUN)

András Balczó was born in August 16, 1938 (Kondoros, Hungary). Balczó is probably the most successful pentathlete of the history when it comes to collecting medals. His achievements are amazing: in Olympics Games he won 5 medals: 3 golds (1 individual -München 1972- and 2 with team mates - Roma 1960 and Mexico 1968) and 2 silver medals (1 individual - Mexico 1968- and 1 with the Hungarian team - München 1972). He finished 4th in Roma 1960. He didn't compete in Tokyo 1964 Games, so his Olympic record could have been even more impressive (the record of individual gold medals belong to Lars Hall (SWE) and Andrey Moiseev (RUS) though, since they won the competition twice each one). He also won 19 medals in World Championships (Gold: 10 - 5 individual, 5 team competition; Silver: 7 - 2 individual, 5 team competition; Bronze: 2 individual) which shows he can be considered the best pentathlete of his generation, if not of the history (note: since the sport changes a lot within the years, in its format and also in its techniques, it's not an easy task to make comparisons, but maybe it's safe to say he is the greatest pentathlete of history if we could measure it). His best discipline was the cross-country running, followed by swimming and fencing.

He is now married to Monika Császár, a former gymnast (it's his second marriage) and they have 12 children (!). He became an extremist Christian and joined a fascist party, Jobbik, which was in 3rd place in this year's Hungarian parlamentary elections. Even though this is a sport blog, I have to register here that fascism is extremely dangerous and dumb.

You can find more (detailed info) about Balczó at the following links:
Wiki profile:
World Championships Medals:
Olympic record:
Balczó's life after retirement from the sport:

World Cup #3 - Medway, Great Britain - Women's Final - Caze takes the gold!

Working on it now.

World Cup #3 - Medway, Great Britain - Men's Final - Marosi wins on photo-finish!

To come soon. Sorry for the delay, I've been busy and lazy.