British athlete Kate French has taken out the gold medal of the women’s modern pentathlon at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games; Lithuania’s Laura Asadauskaite sprinted to a finish to claim silver, and Sarolta Kovacs of Hungary bagged the bronze.
The medals were presented by Dr Klaus Schormann, the president of the sport’s governing body, the UIPM. He said it was a historic occasion to have all disciplines of the modern pentathlon taking place in one venue.
» Update: Review of horse jumping phase under way
The Modern Pentathlon was invented by the founder of the modern Games, Baron Pierre de Coubertin. It has its roots in a 19th-century legend, and athletes are challenged to complete five very different elements in a single day. The story goes that a young French cavalry officer was sent on horseback to deliver a message. To complete his mission, he had to ride, fence, shoot, swim and run – the five challenges that face competitors in Modern Pentathlon today. The sport first appeared at the Stockholm 1912 Olympic Games, while the women’s competition made its debut at Sydney 2000.
There was controversy over the riding discipline of the event, which also includes fencing, laser run (running and shooting), and swimming. Several riders struggled to control their horses on the showjumping course, but Schormann said there was “no basis for athletes to complain”.
“Now we are looking forward to the Men’s Final tomorrow and I must say to those who do not know our sport so well, the presentation of the facility and the horses were of a high quality. Maybe there were a few moments that you would say were not so nice but I tell you – the horses are absolutely excellent.
“We tested them and they were well prepared, and there is no basis for athletes to complain. It is only because of the athletes themselves if they were not successful in some parts of the competition. Nobody from the organising committee should be blamed. Everything was genius, was super, and I’m very happy with Secretary-General Shiny Fang in what we have achieved together with the organising committee.”
Only Lithuanian riders Laura Asadauskaite and Gintare Venckauskaite went clear and within the time around the 14-obstacle course. There was disappointment for host nation Japan as Natsumi Takamiya was eliminated and Rena Shimazu incurred 48 penalty points. World champion Anastasiya Prokopenko (BLR) dislodged two rails, giving herself too much to do in the Laser Run.
Those who fell out of contention included Elena Micheli (ITA), Michelle Gulyas (HUN) and Natalya Coyle (IRL), who had been in fourth place.
After a sudden rain shower and the elimination of Marcela Cuaspud of Ecuador and Ieda Guimaraes of Brazil, calm was restored by the Lithuanian pair of Laura Asadauskaite and Gintare Venckauskaite, both of whom achieved perfect scores of 300. It was a relief for Asadauskaite after her elimination in Riding at Rio 2016.
There were solid rides from Elodie Clouvel (FRA) and her team-mate Marie Oteiza, Marina Carrier of Australia, Alice Sotero (ITA), Sarlota Kovacs (HUN), Sehee Kim (KOR) and Uliana Batashova (ROC) – as well as a crucial 294 for Kate French.
All of that might have been immaterial in the destination of the gold medal if the last ride of the competition had gone differently. But what ensued was a devastating experience for the outright leader.
Riding Saint Boy, the same horse that had refused to jump several times for Gulnaz Gubaydullina (ROC), Annika Schleu (GER) struggled to persuade her mount to start the round – and it wasn’t long until the horse was refusing to jump. Despite her frantic efforts to calm the horse and the exhortations of her trainers, Schleu finally had to accept defeat – elimination and the end of her medal quest.
Having dominated the 2021 UIPM Pentathlon World Cup season, French was a gold-medal favourite but she had to come from behind after falling a little short of her usual standards in Fencing. The 30-year-old, who finished fifth at Rio 2016, kept herself in contention during a dramatic Riding session and started the Laser Run only 15sec off the lead after the shock elimination of leader Schleu.
That kind of margin is not daunting to a pentathlete of her calibre and French (GBR) moved into the lead on the second lap, before gradually increasing it. Her final victory margin was 15sec and she set a new Olympic record of 1385 points in becoming her country’s second Olympic champion and first since Stephanie Cook in 2000 in Sydney.
Behind her, an intriguing battle for silver was finally settled by one of the true icons of the sport. Laura Asadauskaite, the London 2012 champion, emerged from the pack to win silver and give Lithuania its first medal of the Olympics in any sport.
Sarolta Kovacs of Hungary, the 2016 world champion, has struggled to replicate the highs of the past in recent years, and almost didn’t make it to Tokyo after struggling with injury. But there was a fairytale ending as she bravely held on to bronze, winning a ding-dong battle with fourth-placed Alice Sotero of Italy.
Ilke Ozyuksel of Turkey ended a typically brilliant Laser Run by finishing fifth, ahead of Rio 2016 Olympic silver medallist Elodie Clouvel of France.
Rank Name Nation MP Points
1 FRENCH Kate GBR 1385
2 ASADAUSKAITE Laura LTU 1370
3 KOVACS Sarolta HUN 1368
4 SOTERO Alice ITA 1363
5 OZYUKSEL Ilke TUR 1350
6 CLOUVEL Elodie FRA 1347
7 VENCKAUSKAITE Gintare LTU 1343
8 PROKOPENKO Anastasiya BLR 1342
9 BATASHOVA Uliana ROC 1341
10 OTEIZA Marie FRA 1334
11 KIM Sehee KOR 1330
12 GULYAS Michelle HUN 1325
13 POTAPENKO Elena KAZ 1322
14 MUIR Joanna GBR 1318
15 OLIVER Mayan MEX 1310
16 ARCEO Mariana MEX 1302
17 KIM Sunwoo KOR 1296
18 SILKINA Volha BLR 1292
19 MORSY Haydy EGY 1289
20 MALISZEWSKA Anna POL 1283
21 SCHULTZ Samantha USA 1278
22 ZHANG Xiaonan CHN 1275
23 SHIMAZU Rena JPN 1271
24 COYLE Natalya IRL 1268
25 ZHANG Mingyu CHN 1268
26 MOYA LÓPEZ Leydi Laura CUB 1261
27 CARRIER Marina AUS 1257
28 LANGREHR Rebecca GER 1248
29 KANDIL Amira EGY 1221
30 FAKHRUTDINOVA Alise UZB 1165
31 SCHLEU Annika GER 1088
32 GUBAYDULLINA Gulnaz ROC 1053
33 MICHELI Elena ITA 1049
34 TAKAMIYA Natsumi JPN 985
35 CUASPUD Marcela ECU 860
36 CHAVES GUIMARAES Maria Ieda BRA 430