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Taking Riding Out of Pentathlon Causes Uproar in Hungary

Júlia Tar 2021.11.06.

After the 2024 Paris Olympics, the International Pentathlon Federation (UIPM) will remove horse riding from the pentathlon program and replace it with a new sport. Not everyone agrees with the decision which has even become a political issue.

Many viewers may remember that at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, German pentathlete Annika Schleu was leading the competition but she was unable to successfully complete the show-jumping event, moving her from first to last place, and to an eventual 31st place. The horse named Saint Boy was randomly assigned from a pool of 18 and had also refused to jump for Russian Olympic Committee athlete Gulnaz Gubaydullina, refusing three barriers. This ruined the whole tournament for the athlete and also led to animal cruelty claims, when her trainer, Kim Raisner, attacked the horse after the disastrous performance.

Fact

It is an interesting aspect of the equestrian competition in pentathlon that the riders do not compete with their own horses. “In the first pentathlon, in 1912, the athletes were allowed to use horses with which they were acquainted. That is the case in other equestrian events, in which the long-forged symbiosis between rider and horse can be the deciding factor and the course is designed to test the horse as well as the rider,” The New York Times writes. “But Pierre de Coubertin [who created the modern pentathlon for the 1912 Olympics] believed from the beginning that the real test of athletes’ mettle was their ability to handle a horse that they had never met — or, in the usual lingo, the unfamiliar horse. And from 1920 onward, that is how the event has been conducted.”

The Tokyo incident and the recent experience at tournaments — i. e. a good or bad horse can decide athletes’ fates instead of their preparation, thus making the competitions gamble-like, according to many — had its effects. After the 2024 Paris Olympics, the International Pentathlon Federation (UIPM) will remove horse riding from the pentathlon program and replace it with a new sport.

Sports daily Nemzeti Sport asked three Hungarian pentathletes about the decision.

“We’re going to have a sport that we can no longer call pentathlon, and I’m pretty bitter about that,” defending world champion and Olympic bronze medallist Ádám Marosi told the paper-

I don’t understand why we have to interfere with tradition.”

He also said that “For me, the whole Olympic ideal is now being called into question, and I very much hope that the sport has not dug its own grave with this decision.”

Olympic champion János Martinek said:

After Paris, we can only call our sport pentathlon by the numbers of events.”

He said that he’s very sad about the decision, as it was his favorite event. However, he added that “Some people believe that this particular sport is a hindrance to the progress of the sport, as many countries do not have a horse population or have lower-quality horses. Many countries are unable to organize competitions because of this, so they have to hunt for the hosts of big competitions, and we have always been at the forefront of competition organization.”

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Olympic champion, Zsuzsanna Vörös, said that “According to information from the international federation, this step had to be taken in order for the sport to remain on the Olympic program. The world is constantly changing, unfortunately at the moment we have to adapt, and

as Hungary is a nation with a great pentathlon tradition, we are much more sensitive to this decision,”

adding that “This decision is painful for everyone.”

Martinek and Vörös also mentioned that they do not know what will replace riding.

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Secretary-General of the Hungarian Pentathlon Federation, István Gallai, also told Nemzeti Sport that “we are a nation with a great tradition of the pentathlon, and

in our minds, there is no substitute for riding,

so what is being born as a sport is not the pentathlon we have loved, dreamed of, and nurtured for future generations. But the International Federation believes that this change is the only way to open up to the world and to young people. Other expectations, other demands must be met.”

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He concluded that “The final decision will be made during the Beijing Winter Olympics. Next week in Monaco, I will also attend a meeting of the technical, competition, and coaching committees, after which the picture will be clearer.”

Orbán administration: Decision “deeply shocking”

The Hungarian Minister for Agriculture, István Nagy, wrote in a Facebook post that “the decision of the International Pentathlon Federation (UIPM) is deeply shocking and a cause for justified professional and moral protest.”

He added:

The crowning glory of the sport of pentathlon was riding: riding the horse was the most exciting and unpredictable competition in the sport of pentathlon, where the harmonious cooperation of horse and man, creating value and measurable results, was demonstrated.”

“We Hungarians, out of our commitment to sports and horses, declare November 2, 2021, as a day of mourning for the sport of pentathlon.”

Featured image: Róbert Kasza in the men’s pentathlon equestrian event at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, postponed to 2021 due to the worldwide outbreak of the coronavirus at the Tokyo Stadium on 7 August 2021. Photo by Zsolt Czeglédi/MTI