INTERVIEW: Changes to modern pentathlon to make sport more dynamic, exciting, says Egyptian sports head

Ghada Abdel-Kader, Sunday 31 Jul 2022

Ahram Online spoke to Yasser Hefny, chairman of the International Modern Pentathlon Union (UIPM) athletes’ committee, about the replacement, despite some opposition, of equestrian show jumping with obstacles course as the sport’s fifth discipline during the Olympic Games Los Angeles 2028.

Yasser Hefny

Ahram Online spoke to Hefny amid Egypt’s hosting of the UIPM Senior World Championships in Alexandria 24-31 July, which is the largest modern pentathlon tournament in the world after the Olympics.

The 33-year-old Egyptian is an accomplished pentathalete, competing for the national team since the age of 12 and winning the youth world championship in 2005 and 2007. He also competed for Egypt at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. Today, he is the sports director and technical advisor for the Egyptian modern pentathlon team.

Horse riding has been an integral part of the modern pentathlon sport alongside fencing, swimming, pistol shooting and cross-country running since the 1912 Olympics. However, fallout from an incident during the 2020 Summer Olympics where a German coach struck a horse caused the UIPM to look into replacing the event.

Although riding has long been a staple of the sport, Hefny is optimistic about the coming changes. 

“Obstacle discipline is full of excitement for both athletes and spectators. It will increase the popularity of modern pentathlon worldwide and add a completely new community for the sport. We are expecting a big rise in number of participating countries and pentathletes in the coming period,” Hefny said.

“UIPM’s target is to choose a popular sport, [that is] easy to train, practice, organise, [and is] appealing for youth and young generations [and] low in cost and equipment in comparison to equestrian sports,” he added.

Obstacle sports comprise different disciplines and events where athletes overcome obstacles in timed competitions. It includs different forms such as ninja warrior competitions, obstacle course racing and adventure racing.

World Obstacle (FISO) is the world governing body for obstacle sports.

Hefny has had a central role in forming the fifth discipline working group of experts. He has led a focus group composed of 26 athletes from 22 countries. The outcome of this effort after long discussions for months and strong conclusions was that obstacle is the appropriate sport to fulfill all IOC’s recommendations for sporting programme of the Los Angeles 2028 Olympic Games.

UIPM are now in testing period of new pentathlon discipline. The first obstacle course test event was in Ankara, Turkey in late June. The second test will be in Manila, Philippine in August. The third one will take place in World Junior Championships next September.

“UIPM are targeting the young generation of penathletes who are going to compete in Olympic Games 2028,” he said.

“The old generation of penathletes was really affected by the equestrian discipline[, which has been cut]. We loved it, grew up with it and got used to practicing it in our daily lives, but we have to move on and look forward to the future,” he commented.

“We are hoping the modern pentathlon will be part of the programme of Los Angeles 2028, inspiring the young generation to give them chance to live out and pursue their Olympic dream,” he added.

The modern pentathlon lasts for 90 minutes and takes place on the same field of play with a five-minute walking distance separating the swimming, fencing, riding and combined pistol and running courses.

“UIPM took recommendations from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) programme commission. All the experts in media and marketing within UIPM along with external experts agreed that shortening the length of the competition day will be favourable for the sport as spectators will easily be able to follow the game when watching television, increasing the popularity and contributing to a rise in viewership of the sport,” he explained.

“I find the new format is a positive evolution for the game. Sport looks much better. It becomes more exciting and dynamic,” he added.

“It is first year for the new format to be applied. UIPM is doing a lot of studies and evaluations on the new format,” he said.

“The UIPM medical committee works very well and makes game reviews, surveys and visionaries for all aspects of athletes’ health to see if are going to do any modifications on new format to ensure no harm for athletes,” he concluded.

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