The Portuguese delegation at the Union Internationale de Pentathlon Moderne Biathle/Triathle World Championships erupted as another junior medalist was announced for Portugal.
One of the largest delegations at Nathan Benderson Park this past week, the Portuguese team huddled tightly around the podium propped next to the bleachers as Genadijus Sokolovas peeked over his shoulder from afar.
The head coach of the United States’ modern pentathlon saw what could be the future — someday — a massive contingent of biathle and triathle athletes, a committed group of supporters and success in the medal count. For now, he and the Americans settle for understated success.
“They like it. Biathle, triathle are not as popular in the United States,” Sokolovas said. “How many in the U.S. compete? I’ll tell you. It’s 50, maybe. Maximum.”
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That small delegation, however, accounted for four of the six senior medals at the Union Internationale de Pentathlon Moderne (UIPM) Biathle/Triathle Championships in Sarasota. Samantha Achtenberg and Erin Storie swept the triathle and biathle, respectively. Storie and her husband, Logan Storie, teamed to win the mixed biathle relay, and Achtenberg paired with Dennis Bowsher for a gold in the mixed triathle.
The only other senior winner was France’s Alexandre Henrard, who swept the men’s division for the second straight year. Henrard became the first athlete to win the biathle men’s championship in consecutive years since South Africa’s Hendrik de Villiers won three in a row from 2001-2003.
“I am a pentathlete, so I do fencing and riding, too,” Henrard said. “But to win back-to-back with both titles was definitely my aim, and it will be the same next year.”
Henrard is like most high-level athletes competing at the Biathle/Triathle World Championships. Modern pentathlon is the primary focus, with biathle and triathle slotting in as part of the season.
The modern pentathlon, for which Team USA’s Summer Olympic qualifying was partly held at Benderson Park during the summer, tests athletes in swimming, running, shooting, fencing and show jumping. Biathle trims the competition to running and swimming. Triathle trims it to swimming, running and shooting. The United States’ gold medalists are mostly former Olympians or Olympic hopefuls in the modern pentathlon.
Bowsher competed in modern pentathlon at the 2012 Summer Olympics. Logan Storie is the world-record holder for swimming in the pentathlon, and Achtenburg qualified for the Games in Rio de Janeiro, but didn’t make the U.S. team because rules limit each country’s number of participants. Erin Storie is an exception as an Olympic hopeful in triathlon.
“We are in the offseason after the Olympics right now, that’s why winning gold medals at world championships was really a surprise,” Sokolovas said. “We’re really pleased to see that, after Olympics, athletes are still competing really well. They’re doing a good job, and that’s a good sign for next year.”
Sokolovas joined the United States program in 2002, after a storied career as a swimmer in Lithuania, to coach the modern pentathlon team and serve as a trainer for the nation’s swim team.
This weekend, the worlds were held on U.S. soil for the first time in the championships’ 17-year history. and Erin Storie’s biathle championship was the first by an American woman. At the highest level, the United States’ success was finally unparalleled this year.
But Sokolova can’t help being jealous about the popularity of modern pentathlon in other countries. The South African delegation brought 270 athletes to Sarasota. In Great Britain, biathle and triathle are school-sanctioned sports with about 800,000 competitors. Nearly 1,000 athletes from around the world came to Florida for the UIPM world championships.
“We’re still winning gold medals. That show’s that we’re doing a really good job over here, but we need to more spread the word about,” Sokolovas said. “I hope this will spark interest. People are already talking about that. Local swim teams, local triathlon teams saying, ‘Wow. I didn’t know about this event at all.’”