Egypt’s Mohannad Shaaban secured his direct qualification to the Paris 2024 Olympic Games after winning the individual gold medal in the 2023 Pentathlon World Cup final which took place from 30 May to 4 June in Ankara.
The men’s final was nearly scrapped due to heavy rain but was finally held after a three-hour rain delay. However, slippery conditions were a major factor in the climax of the laser run. In fact, the Egyptian won gold and the only men’s Olympic ticket after a dramatic final in laser run (shooting and running). Shaaban found himself on his back at the first corner, but it was a slip by Tokyo 2020 Olympic champion Joseph Choong of Great Britain in the final metres that determined the winner as Shaaban prevailed in one of the most spectacular sprints the modern pentathlon has seen.
Emiliano Hernandez of Mexico held off pressure from Csaba Bohm of Hungary for the bronze while Woojin Park of South Korea and Marek Grycz of the Czech Republic rounded out the top six.
The final event (laser run) was one of the most difficult. There had to be an element of improvisation in the way the venue was rearranged to allow the men’s final to take place, and there were areas of the race course that the floodlights couldn’t reach. Shaaban found this the hard way when he ran into the opening corner and completely lost his footing in a puddle.
It was remarkable how well the 22-year-old Egyptian had recovered from that mishap to protect his 10-second starting lead. Once again, he shot with masterful consistency, only giving the Brit Choong a chance on the last visit to the pits where he took 17 secs to fire his shots.
Choong seemed to have seized his chance as he passed his rival. However, Shaaban gritted his teeth and stayed just behind the sport’s most famous athlete, staging a frantic sprint to the line to snatch the gold and the Olympic ticket.
“At my first World Cup of the season, in Egypt in March, I placed fourth. Then I claimed the gold here in Ankara and then the silver in Budapest,” Shaaban said after the final. “Then I came back here for the World Cup final and snatched the gold from the Olympic champion and the best finisher I think in the pentathlon. I’m so happy. I hope to do it again in Paris 2024, and nothing is impossible. Maybe I could.”
Silver medallist Choong told journalists how the final race went. “It was a great ending. We went down the slight incline and people had their phone lights on trying to light up the ground, but that doesn’t matter; sometimes you hit a little muddy and slip. There was a bit of a scramble, as there always is, but I hit the final corner, then hit a puddle and leaned forward. From there, I slide, I splash, a bit like ice skating, to be honest.
“But all the credit goes to Mohannad. He had a good finish and I think it’s the first time someone has beaten me in the sprint. Fair play, not particularly happy but will get it next time,” Choong added.
The next of the World Cup series will take place from 21-28 August in Great Britain.
In the mixed relay, the Egyptian team composed of Amira Kandil and Islam Hamed finished fourth behind South Korea, France and Hungary. Egypt’s track record at the various stages of the World Cup is excellent since Egypt occupies second place with seven medals, including three gold, one silver and three bronze.
“I am totally satisfied with the Egyptian performance from the start of the season,” Sherif Al-Erian, president of the Egyptian Modern Pentathlon Federation, said.
“The gold medal and the Olympic ticket for Shaaban compensate for the great effort of the Egyptian federation. We work according to a scientific system and we are aiming for medals in each competition until the 2024 Paris Olympics to repeat the feat of our champion Ahmed Al-Gendi,” Olympic silver medallist in the Tokyo 2020 Games.
* A version of this article appears in print in the 1 June, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.