Tokyo 2020 pentathlon: Review of horse jumping phase under way

A rider in the men's Modern Pentathlon at Tokyo 2020.
The UIPM, the governing body of Modern Pentathlon, is reviewing the events that unfolded in the women’s competition at Tokyo 2020. Changes to the discipline are under way for Paris 2024. © IOC/ Nuno Gonçalves

The world governing body for the sport of Modern Pentathlon says it “regrets the trauma” suffered by the horse at the centre of controversy during the women’s competition at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, and is undertaking a review into the event.

The horse, Saint Boy, appears to have been struck by German coach Kim Raisner during the competition after he would not jump for his rider, Annika Schleu.

» Comment: The modern pentathlon might need, for want of a better word, modernizing

After viewing video footage of the incident, the UIPM disqualified Raisner from the remainder of the Tokyo 2020 Games, citing a violation of its competition rules for striking the horse.

In an official statement, the UIPM acknowledged that the events of August 6 “caused distress both inside and outside the global UIPM Sports community”.

A full review was to be conducted of the riding discipline of the women’s competition at Tokyo 2020, and would “also reinforce the importance of horse welfare and athlete safety across the entire global competition structure”.

The UIPM said that changes to the riding phase were already in the pipeline, with “the new Modern Pentathlon” coming into force in 2022 for the Paris 2024 Olympics. “Horse welfare and athlete safety will be at the centre of this process.”

The topic was slated for discussion at the UIPM 2021 Congress in November, which would “provide an opportunity for UIPM’s national member federations to participate in a collective effort to secure the future of riding in Modern Pentathlon”.

It noted that riding was an integral part of the Modern Pentathlon, as envisaged by Baron Pierre de Coubertin, who aimed to create the ultimate test of moral and physical qualities. “The ability to control a horse in a competitive situation is part of the pentathlon toolkit – the Olympic champion must prove they can swim, fence, ride, shoot and run to a high level to earn the coveted gold medal,” the UIPM said.

“The unpredictability of athletes riding on unfamiliar drawn horses, with only 20 minutes to establish an understanding, is part of the dramatic spectacle that makes Modern Pentathlon unique and compelling.

“While the number of refusals and falls on August 6 was slightly above average, the Olympic Games is designed as the most challenging of all competitions. The experience of Annika Schleu and Gulnaz Gubaydullina on Saint Boy was unusual in high-level Modern Pentathlon, especially for riders of their proven ability.

“That said, UIPM has a duty of care to all participants in the competitions it oversees; this includes the Olympic Games and it includes horses.

“UIPM regrets the trauma suffered by Saint Boy in this high-profile incident and has penalised the coach who violated the UIPM Competition Rules by striking the horse from outside the ring.

“Although no athlete or horse was physically injured on August 6, the best possible safeguards must be in place to minimise risk in future.”

Both the men’s and women’s Modern Pentathlon were won by British athletes. The country’s governing body, Pentathlon GB, said it would be conducting its own review of the outcome of the event, “to further enhance our understanding about what took place in Tokyo, and to inform future decisions regarding both our approach to preparation of programme athletes and the delivery of our own events”.

Pentathlon GB would work with the British Equestrian Federation as part of this review.

“Whilst we believe riding remains an important part of the future of our sport, the events that took place on August 6 were distressing to watch for everyone. We welcome the announcement of the UIPM’s review of the riding at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games and the discipline’s future within the sport,” Pentathlon GB said.

“We pride ourselves on producing a high calibre of athlete who can demonstrate the necessary skills and ability to safely ride an unfamiliar horse, both within training and under the pressure of competition. Due to the variety of ways individuals enter our sport, in many cases our athletes have come from a riding background and as such have significant personal experience of riding and owning horses, before they enter our supervised riding programmes.

“Regardless of experience, in addition to learning the technical elements of riding, all of our athletes are supported to fully understand horsemanship and their responsibility to all of the horses they ride, and we continue to work with the owners of horses ridden in training and competition to ensure this remains the case.”

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