UIPM Treasurer says modern pentathlon must evolve and embrace change to secure place in future Olympic Games

The sport will replace the horse riding discipline in Los Angeles 2028 although no replacement sport has been named.

Amid confirmed reports the sport of modern pentathlon will be replacing the horse jumping discipline in 2028, Union Internationale de Pentathlon Moderne (UIPM) Treasurer John Helmick told Around the Rings the move is necessary for many reasons.

“This was a tough decision to make. We’ve had riding in our sport for 109 years. We are the only sport created specifically for the Olympic Games,” Helmick said. “But the riding event has become a barrier for developing nations and poorer nations to compete in the sport. It also makes it difficult for countries to host our event. We want inclusion. When you have barriers to your sport, that is not being aligned with the Olympic spirit.”

Helmick also stressed that any report of cycling replacing horse riding is simply not true. The UIPM established a set of 13 criteria the new discipline must meet to be included in Los Angeles 2028. Cycling, among other sports, was briefly discussed but ultimately rejected. No replacement sport has been selected, as the UIPM continues to discuss options.

The horse riding discipline has also come under recent scrutiny after a disturbing incident in Tokyo, when a German coach punched a horse that refused to jump over obstacles. Questions about horse safety and competitive fairness have lingered since then.

FILE PHOTO: Tokyo 2020 Olympics - Modern Pentathlon - Women's Riding - Tokyo Stadium - Tokyo, Japan - August 6, 2021. Annika Schleu of Germany in action REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: Tokyo 2020 Olympics - Modern Pentathlon - Women's Riding - Tokyo Stadium - Tokyo, Japan - August 6, 2021. Annika Schleu of Germany in action REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado/File Photo

Helmick believes the upcoming changes for 2028 will alleviate any concerns.

“Riding horses chosen by a random draw has created a lack of fairness to our athletes,” Helmick continued. “Too often athletes are eliminated due to a horse that is not at an equal level to other horses in the competition. By removing equestrian, the modern pentathlon will eliminate a variable the athlete can’t control. This will allow for fair play and a truer test of the sport.”

The format for Paris 2024 will remain unchanged, but the UIPM doesn’t foresee any issues for Los Angeles 2028 as Helmick noted the UIPM under-19 and under-17 World Championships do not feature horse riding. The vast majority of athletes competing in Los Angeles 2028 have never ridden a horse.

While several modern pentathlon athletes have criticized the decision, saying it’s simply not modern pentathlon without horse riding, Helmick sympathizes with them, but ultimately doesn’t agree.

“I understand athletes would be upset by this decision. You’ve been training a certain way with riding for 10 years and will continue to train and ride for Paris 2024. However, we’ve been modernizing and making changes to our sport in order to continue in the Olympic program. The competition used to last five days, now it’s completed in a single day. We’ve substituted laser pistols for .22 caliber guns and have combined the run and shoot in a single final event,” said Helmick.

Tokyo 2020 Olympics - Modern Pentathlon - Men's Laser-Run - Tokyo Stadium - Tokyo, Japan - August 7, 2021. Ahmed Elgendy of Egypt (L) in action REUTERS/Carlos Barria
Tokyo 2020 Olympics - Modern Pentathlon - Men's Laser-Run - Tokyo Stadium - Tokyo, Japan - August 7, 2021. Ahmed Elgendy of Egypt (L) in action REUTERS/Carlos Barria

“The sport remains and will remain a test of the complete athlete, mind and body. The test has changed over 109 years. We have to ask ourselves if we are testing the full athlete? If the answer is yes, then is still modern pentathlon.”