In January of this year the women’s modern pentathlon Olympic champion Chloe Esposito announced she was pregnant and withdrawing from the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020. The subsequent COVID-19 pandemic has devastated and concerned her but it has also opened the door to her potentially defending her title…
Chloe Esposito has always lived life to a plan. Injuries would occasionally present a bump in the road but she invariably knew where she was headed and how she would get there. But 2020 came along and reduced that approach to rubble.
First, she found out she was happily, but unexpectedly, pregnant, due to give birth just as she was scheduled to be going for her second successive modern pentathlon Olympic crown. And then, COVID-19 tipped the whole world upside down. Amid the subsequent trauma and the chaos caused, it is heartening to hear of the occasional chink of light.
“A lot of people asked me straight away, as soon as they postponed the Olympics for a year, and yes, I would still love to go to Tokyo,” Esposito said with a self-conscious laugh, quietly aware that she may now have a chance to get her plan back on track.
Understandably, the Australian is playing it very cautiously, warning that she will “have the baby first and see how it goes”, before adding sensibly that if she does not make the next Games, she will have Paris 2024 to look forward to. But even then, the 28-year-old cannot help but be seduced by the new possibilities.
“It would be lovely to be able to compete in Tokyo, I love Japan. It’s one of my favourite countries.”
Now about seven-months pregnant, Esposito, who was ranked world No.1 as recently as late-2018, is already looking forward to getting back in shape – even if there have been some much-appreciated bonuses.
“It’s been great, really, really good. My husband likes it, I am a bit more relaxed – maybe too relaxed – about what I eat. I don’t go crazy but if I feel like something I am going to eat it,” she laughed. “I really like hot chips at the moment. I never used to eat them really but now it’s all hot chips.
“But I even said to Matt [her husband] the other day, ‘I just can’t wait until I can get fit again. I really miss that feeling.”
The athlete is, however, used to the need to be patient and accept the waves as they come. After her thrilling triumph in Rio de Janeiro – where a powerhouse performance in the final combined running/shooting phase catapulted her from seventh to the gold-medal position as she became Australia’s first modern pentathlon Olympic medallist – Esposito took a year off.
She returned in style to have the “year of her life” in 2018, during which she won gold at the World Cup final for the first time and climbed to the top of the rankings. Then serious injury struck, with 2019 devoted to recovery and rehab following surgery on her hamstring. She had just got back her old feeling when she found out about the pregnancy and then COVID-19 struck.
“I am still doing a little bit but no pools are open. I would be swimming if I could,” Esposito said. “So I’ve been doing Pilates, going for walks. I was running up until not that long ago but things are getting a bit more difficult now.”
Her dad, Daniel Esposito, is Chloe’s coach and was swimming and working out with her until everything closed. He represented Australia in modern pentathlon at the Olympic Games Los Angeles 1984 and the bug has clearly never left. Having steered his younger daughter, Emily, to the 2010 Youth Olympic Games [YOG] – she competed in pistol shooting having also qualified in modern pentathlon – and his son Max to the 2014 YOG, Daniel was proudly present in Rio four years ago. Not only did he watch Chloe grab her historic gold but he also helped steer Max, the youngest competitor in the men’s line-up, to a highly creditable seventh-place finish.
“We [Chloe and her father] have spoken about it [Tokyo 2020] but he doesn’t want to put any pressure or set any time limit,” Chloe Esposito said. “When we spoke about it the other day, he said, ‘I am ready for another round, Chloe’ and I said, ‘Yeah, I think I am too, Dad’.”
Brother Max is currently in Germany working, having had to put his own Olympic dreams on ice. After numerous injuries in the past three years his doctors advised him that his body needed 18 months to heal properly. The enforced break has not dimmed his fire so far, with Chloe revealing that her younger sibling admitted in a recent phone call that he is “missing serious training”.
Expect the Esposito express to be back to full complement by Paris 2024. The three of them masterminded their Rio raid from Budapest, the “best place for pentathlon competition and training” according to Chloe. The family still rent a flat there, full of all their training gear, and following a “year, year-and-a-half” in Australia after the birth, she certainly expects them all to head back to the Hungarian capital.
“We know it works,” she said. “There’s a lot of fencing over there as well and that’s what we really need to keep up, good opponents.”
But before any of that, the women’s defending Olympic champion will do her very best to be in Japan next July.