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25 Jul 1952
Helsinki 1952

Civilian Hall wins modern pentathlon gold

Like dressage, modern pentathlon threw open its doors to civilian competitors in Helsinki.

Among the hugely talented athletes who were given their chance to excel on the Olympic stage in 1952 was Lars Hall, a carpenter from Sweden who had won the world championship title in both 1950 and 1951 and arrived in Helsinki as the favourite for gold.

He started with victory in the cross-country riding, thanks in part to a little bit of luck. The first horse assigned to him turned out to be lame and when he was given a substitute, it proved to be the best horse in the competition.

The fencing was a greater challenge, with Hall outperformed by the Hungarian pair of Gábor Benedek and István Szondy and slipping to second place in the standings. The Swede also struggled in the shooting, finishing only 15th and seeing his two Hungarian rivals move into the gold and silver medal positions.

He was lucky to have stayed in the competition at all. Hall had arrived late at the shooting and would have been disqualified were it not for another piece of good fortune. As he arrived, the Soviet team were involved in a protest that had delayed the start of the competition. Without that delay, Hall would have been thrown out.

Perhaps spurred on by that bit of luck, Hall dominated the swimming, beating his closest rival by more than six seconds, with the Hungarian duo way off the pace. So emphatic was the Swede’s victory in the water that he shot right to joint top of the standings, alongside Szondy.

It all came down to the running event. Hall knew he was faster than Szondy and that, as long as Benedek did not beat him by a huge margin, the gold would be his. In the end he played is smart. Benedek was second, moving him up to second overall, while Hall finished eighth and Szondy a distant 17th, dropping him into the bronze medal position. Hall's victory was assured and he became the first civilian to be crowned Olympic pentathlon champion.

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