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Pentathlon's shot in the dark

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BBC Sport's Ollie Williams challenges top British modern pentathlete Heather Fell to the sport's new combined run-and-shoot event

MODERN PENTATHLON WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS
Venue: Crystal Palace, London Dates: 13-17 August
Coverage: Watch highlights from 2000 BST on Saturday and Sunday on the red button (Sat only on Freeview) and BBC Sport website (UK users only)

By Ollie Williams

You have spent every morning for the last five or 10 years getting up, having a wash, and eating breakfast.

Now, position yourself at the sink with some toiletries and a cereal bowl.

Start having a wash. Then eat some breakfast. Then carry on washing, then eat some more breakfast.

You would probably need time to adjust, and the initial results may well be a bit of a mess. It would feel weird, too.

Yet that is the situation facing the world's top modern pentathletes.

The sport has traditionally comprised five elements - fencing, swimming, show jumping, running and shooting.

Now I wouldn't have it any other way; it suits me and I hope I can keep improving

Freyja Prentice
GB modern pentathlete

Whatever some people may feel about the continued relevance of the sport, those five disciplines had remained the pillars around which it was built.

However, in November 2008 the sport's governing body voted to combine the running and shooting into one event.

Pentathletes must now attempt three stints on the shooting range, running a kilometre between each.

Gone is the precision-accuracy approach to the pistol shooting - the search for the perfect 10 which had competitors wearing fancy eye patches to help focus on the target.

The emphasis now lies on getting a shot anywhere within a far bigger target, while steadying the heart rate having run 1,000m.

The difference may sound small but, in practice, the technique required makes the combined event an entirely new challenge.

Keen shots and long-distance runners find their talents redundant, and are losing ground against those who can manage stop-start running while keeping a manageable heart rate and a steady arm.

Sport is 'completely different' - Mahony

Dominic Mahony, British pentathlon team manager, admits he would not have fancied the change when he was competing.

"Like every athlete I would have adapted, but I was so much of a runner - I liked training for 3,000m or 4,000m and it's completely different now," Mahony, who helped Britain to team bronze at Seoul in 1988, told BBC Sport.

"It would have been fun as a young athlete to pick it up, though, for sure."

That attitude is exemplified by Freyja Prentice, who, aged 19, has burst into modern pentathlon's world rankings.

"The new format has helped me," said Prentice, from Aberdeen, who was ranked 20th ahead of the 2009 World Championships in London.

"When it first came in I didn't know if it was good because I was getting the hang of the old format, but now I wouldn't have it any other way. It suits me and I hope I can keep improving.

"The people who were good in the old format are still there, but there are other people who it suits better who have come up.

Prentice enjoying new format

"If somebody had told me a year ago I'd be at the world championships, I'd have said, 'Don't be silly'. But now I want to get into the final."

Contrast Prentice's positive spin on the move with team-mate and world number one Heather Fell, who admitted she has struggled with the new event.

"It's completely different," she said. "I'm a bit up and down and I'm still not consistent.

Olympic champion Lena Schoneborn echoed those sentiments, saying: "I was good at the old format, but now I'm finding my way like everyone else and I see it as a challenge."

Mahony expects London 2012 will be in sight before performances in the combined event begin to level out.

"This is a transitional year," he said.

"It's good to see young athletes enjoying it, finding it dynamic, and it's enjoyable as a spectator because you do get to see a change in the standings.

"But we've got another couple of years before we know what a world-class performance is in the run-and-shoot."



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see also
British quartet power into final
14 Aug 09 |  Modern Pentathlon
GB expect world medal in London
07 Jul 09 |  Modern Pentathlon
Inside track on modern pentathlon
01 Apr 09 |  Modern Pentathlon
Pentathlon change irks Livingston
24 Nov 08 |  Olympics


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