Sarasota-Manatee Pentathlon draws large, inexperienced crowd

kirby@bradenton.comJune 7, 2014 

LAKEWOOD RANCH -- If officials took time before football games to explain all the rules, they'd probably have a lot of impatient fans. But the audience of the Modern Pentathlon World Cup Final in Lakewood Ranch loved the lessons.

For the first time in more than 40 years, the World Cup Final of the Modern Pentathlon is being held in the U.S. The Sarasota-Manatee area won the bid over cities such as Cairo, Rome, Buenos Aires and Acapulco, Mexico in December 2013. Local officials hope the event will spur more interest for holding international sporting events in the area.

Early afternoon Friday, officials explained the history of the pentathlon and the rules for two events -- the fencing ladder and equestrian jumping. The crowd of about 300 listened in rapt attention at the Sarasota Polo Club, cheering and laughing along.

Rob Stull, a former Olympian in modern pentathlon, explained that the pentathlon, like the Olympics, came from ancient Greece.

"The events were based on the five skills that a Greek

man needed to be a good warrior," Stull said.

Those skills originally included events like javelin, running, jumping, swordplay and wrestling. After a couple thousand years, that evolved into running, swimming, fencing, equestrian jumping and shooting.

Adam Maczik, assistant coach for the U.S. Modern Pentathlon with a focus on fencing, explained the rules of the fencing ladder. A long platform was laid out in front of several countries' flags, where Maczik and one of his male trainees stood to demonstrate the rules.

Women's fencing round-robin had already been completed Friday morning, which resulted in a ranking among fencers.

In the ladder, the two lowest-ranked would face off first, having 30 seconds to land one blow on the other fencer. The loser would walk off, the winner would face off with the next highest-ranked fencer. That continued until only two fencers remained.

Maczik demonstrated some common fencing techniques with his trainee, who he had lunge at him while he showed the crowd how the fencers would retreat and parry the blows.

For that event, which will appear in the 2016 Olympics, the fencers each received some money, with the winner getting an extra $200.

Equestrian jumping was another unique event within the pentathlon, because the riders would come to the course, and to the horses, mostly blind, Stull explained.

Riders got to see the course right before the event, but they would not get to practice on it or take any specific measurements.

"They can't use a tape measure, so they measure using their strides," Stull explained.

A horse stride is about 12 feet, so athletes use that knowledge to judge how to handle the course. But riders also don't know which horse they will use, since they are picked randomly.

That might not seem problematic at first, but an international event means international horses. And while horses don't speak in any language, they usually only understand commands in their native language.

Stull gave an example: "'Woah' in Polish is 'brrr,'" he said.

A lot of people in the audience were local retirees excited about the opportunity to see an international event. Many were especially looking forward to the equestrian portion.

"We're here to watch the horses jump and the fencing, we've never seen that before," said Carol LoRicco. She also was there because she's a member of the Jazz Club of Sarasota, who played as entertainment during a break. "And I love to take photos, so this'll be a good opportunity."

"This is perfect. I'm so glad it's coming to the Sarasota area," said Elaine Parnell, a former registered nurse. "I've never seen anything like this, and I'll probably never have another opportunity."

Kate Irby, Herald online reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7055. You can follow her @kateirby.

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