SARASOTA, Fla. -- The Modern Pentathlon is here with Sarasota-Manatee welcoming hundreds of athletes, coaches, and spectators to the Suncoast, June 5-8. One of the more enigmatic events from the Pentathlon being held at the Sarasota Polo Club in Lakewood Ranch and the Selby Aquatic Center in Sarasota is the pistol shooting event.
Laser pistols made their Olympic debut in the Modern Pentathlon at the 2012 Summer Games. Since the pistols are safer, they allow public spectators to get close to the athletes and integrate the running and shooting portions of the Pentathlon into a combined, larger event.
In 2008, the UIPM Congress passed a motion to change the competition format of the Modern Pentathlon to combine the shoot and run disciplines. Now known as the "combined event”, it is the final event of the day’s competition.
This isn't the first time the pistol event has seen changes either. Originally, pentathletes chose whichever bore pistol they were most comfortable with. General George S. Patton actually competed with a .38-caliber pistol in stark contrast to his more lightly armed competitors. Eventually, bore size was limited to .22. An update to the shooting competition brought about air pistols in 1994 with .177-caliber pellets as the ammo of choice. And starting in 2012, laser light became the adopted delivery of pistol firing after Klaus Schormann, president of the International Union of Modern Pentathlon, mandated the laser pistol.
What about the pistol-sound athletes have become accustomed to? When the pistols are "shot" sending their laser beams down to the target, a loud discharge of compressed air is released. The pistols are even set to deliver a small delay when the trigger is pulled. This means the athlete must maintain a steady hand for an accurate score. The new methodology has changed what was traditionally a slow, deliberate phase of the competition into an event that rewards endurance and exactitude.
Now, events are easier to organize in more environments that were previously off limits due to safety reasons. Laser pistols, are of course, inherently safer than pistols shooting projectiles. And athletes can train in many more locations, even indoors.
So, when you're watching these Modern Pentathlon athletes, keep in mind the changes the sport has adapted to just since 1994 and appreciate the athletes' versatility and adaptability in this modern adaptation of an ancient tradition.