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Page last updated at 09:34 GMT, Tuesday, 15 April 2008 10:34 UK

One day, five sports, 20 minutes and a horse

The five disciplines of modern pentathlon

Great Britain's modern pentathletes are taking part in the sport's World Cup ahead of this summer's Olympics.

John Murray, better known as one of BBC Radio 5 Live's leading football commentators, will report on the modern pentathlon in Beijing.

Murray went to the British leg of the World Cup, held at Millfield School, Somerset, to find out what we can expect at the Games.

I had never been to anything like this before.

I was surprised, but really should have realised, that the day started at 8am and wouldn't finish until 7.30pm - I take my hat off to the athletes, it's such a gruelling event.

They do the shooting first, then the fencing, swimming, show jumping and a cross-country run. The only real gap is between the show jumping and the run.

Sam Weale
Britain's Sam Weale takes aim during the shooting section of the World Cup

The approach to the shooting seems to be to make yourself as relaxed as possible.

Two of the British girls were sitting down reading novels just minutes before the start, to take their minds off what they were doing. Quite a few of them were just wearing jeans to do the shooting.

Our athletes in modern pentathlon are genuine medal chances, even though it's a sport that is particularly strong in Eastern Europe, mainly Hungary, where the World Championships will be held in May.

I was told - and I don't know whether this is right - that they have already sold 50,000 tickets in Hungary for that.

But now Britain, particularly the women, are right up there with them in terms of modern pentathlon. Our women have won two of the last three World Cup events and that has to bode well.

I also got to have a word with Sam Weale, one of our men, who was chuffed with his bronze on the Saturday.

Sam's mum told me that seeing Sam finish third in a World Cup felt like a reward for all the fetching, carrying and support his parents have given him over the years.

The fencing took a good two and a half hours to complete, because each athlete has to fence every other competitor for one minute.

Whoever gets the first hit wins, but if you don't get a hit in that minute then you're both deemed to have lost. You have to be aggressive and try to get your hit.

The sheer cost of fencing alone is astonishing.

An epee is 80 a go and you need at least four, so that mounts up, then a mask is 150, a jacket is 150, specialist pairs of shoes are at least 120 - and it's only the senior athletes who get given their gear by sponsors.

In modern pentathlon there is also the cost of horses and guns to consider.

It's seen as an elitist sport and that is something they are trying to shake off, but that is difficult since the sport is so expensive.

That said, the spectators were allowed in for free, and there was a decent turn-out on Sunday when the weather was nice.

It was an entertaining day out, too, with attractions like the chance to have a go at pistol shooting.

The show jumping is tough. There is a lottery whereby 36 competitors are assigned 18 horses, each horse ridden by two competitors.

You only get 20 minutes to warm up with that horse and it's a real test of how good you are.

Katy Livingston, GB modern pentathlete
Heather Fell effectively won the whole competition with her brilliant clear round, when almost all the others were picking up penalty points.

But if you are a good runner then you can really make an impact at the end. There was a Lithuanian, Donata Rimsaite, who was seventh going into the cross-country and she finished third - she tore through the field.

One of the British girls, Georgina Harland, is a very good runner as well. If she had had a decent round in the showjumping she might have got herself into the medals.

I spoke to coaches who told me that lottery funding has completely transformed modern pentathlon.

It's why they have had this success - all the pentathletes are professionals. It's what they do, which amazes me.

People talk about what it takes to win medals.

Both cycling and modern pentathlon prove that it takes a lot of funding.

see also
British trio close in on Beijing
14 Apr 08 |  Modern Pentathlon
Bronze medal for Yeovil's Weale
31 Mar 08 |  Modern Pentathlon
Fell claims World Cup gold for GB
30 Mar 08 |  Modern Pentathlon
Weale claims bronze in World Cup
29 Mar 08 |  Modern Pentathlon
Brit duo reach Millfield final
28 Mar 08 |  Modern Pentathlon
Livingston grabs World Cup gold
23 Feb 08 |  Modern Pentathlon
Team GB for Beijing
14 Apr 08 |  Team GB

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