LAKEWOOD RANCH -- Modern Pentathlon officials gathered Wednesday morning at the Sarasota Polo Club to provide more insight into how the World Cup Final, coming to Manatee-Sarasota this Thursday through Sunday, will unfold.
Volunteers have been scrambling this week to install massive white tents and a Jumbotron. The running track and the horse jumps are coming together and the logistics of transportation for international dignitaries and athletes are being finalized.
"(This) has really turned into a sprint with four months to prepare, and we're thrilled that everyone came together to do that," said Katherine Harris, former congresswoman turned Sarasota-Bradenton Modern Pentathlon executive director.
The World Cup Final will
showcase the top 36 male and 36 female pentathletes from around the world striving to qualify for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil. The pentathlon, considered the most elegant of Olympic sports, features five events: swimming, equestrian show-jumping, fencing, running and pistol shooting.
The public will have plenty of opportunities to mingle with the athletes on game day. There will be designated places to pose for photos, and players will often be found meandering through the crowds.
"What you'll find with these 72 athletes is they've very approachable. They're very personable," said Rob Stull, CEO for USA Pentathlon. "It's not as difficult as it would be to get to an NBA team."
Harris said the value of children getting to know the athletes is "extraordinary." More than 9,000 tickets have been given to youth groups in the community.
"Our youth are going to have the opportunity to look at these Olympians as real heroes. They'll learn about the endurance and physical prowess," Harris said. "They'll learn about the agony of defeat and the ecstasy of winning."
Stull touted Margaux Isakson, a 22-year-old athlete from Arkansas competing in the U.S. team, as the most promising contender.
"She's a two-time Olympian. She's our No. 1 hope here," he said. "She's already got the skills. She just needs the consistency, and then she'll be on top."
Isakson said she has stopped practicing and is simply resting until Friday, the first day of the games: "I've put all the work in. Now it's just about trusting what I've done all year long."
For more information or to purchase tickets for the event, visit sbpentathlon.com.
Sabrina Rocco, East Manatee reporter, can be reached at (941) 745-7024. Follow her on Twitter @sabrinarocco.