The Rio 2016 modern pentathlon produced two exciting competitions, each of which saw the winner set a new Olympic record. In the women’s competition, Chloe Esposito became the first Australian woman to win a modern pentathlon medal, as she overtook her rivals in the final event, the combined pistol shooting and 3,200m cross-country run, to top the podium. Meanwhile, in the men’s event, Russia’s Aleksander Lesun led from start to finish, thanks to a record-breaking performance in the fencing.
Australia’s Chloe Esposito was crowned Olympic champion after a brilliant display in the final event of the women’s modern pentathlon. She produced a near perfect performance on the shooting range to overtake France’s Elodie Clouvel and Poland’s Oktawia Nowacka.
The 24-year-old, who went into the combined pistol shooting/3,200m cross-country run trailing leader Nowacka by 45 seconds, missed just one of 21 targets. Her accuracy with the laser pistol catapulted her to the top of the podium, 16 seconds ahead of Clouvel and 23 seconds ahead of Nowacka, both of whom struggled on the shooting range.
“I knew that the combined run/shoot was my strong point,” said Esposito, who finished seventh at London 2012 and in Rio became the first Australian woman to win a modern pentathlon medal. “I thought about the last four years of really hard work, especially this year. I had a lot of injuries. Today, the planets were all aligned,” added the Australian, who together with her modern pentathlete brother Max, divides her time between her native Sydney and the Hungarian capital of Budapest.
Esposito posted the second fastest time in the combined shooting/cross-country. Previously she had finished 13th in the fencing, seventh in the freestyle swimming and 19th in the show jumping component, taking her to an overall total of 1,372 points, a new Olympic record.
In the five editions since it was first introduced to the Olympic programme at the 2000 Games in Sydney, the women’s modern pentathlon had crowned five different champions. In Rio, the gold medallists from the previous two Games, Laura Asadauskaite of Lithuania (2012) and Germany’s Lena Schoneborn (2008) saw their own hopes of a medal evaporate during the equestrian challenge, in which they each failed to score a single point following four refusals by their mounts.
Silver medallist Clouvel, 27, a former swimmer who made the conversion to modern pentathlon relatively late on, secured France’s first ever individual medal in the discipline. She declared herself “over the moon” to have made it onto the podium, but added that she would be aiming to go one better in Tokyo.
Lesun maintains Russian gold run
There was also a new Olympic record in the men’s event, but in contrast to the women’s where the medals were decided at the finish, Russia’s Aleksander Lesun led from start to finish.
Lesun, who won bronze at London 2012, got off to a flying start by setting a new Olympic record in the fencing as he scored 28 victories from 35 bouts. Nobody managed to dislodge him from top spot after that, though Ukraine’s Pavlo Tymoshchenko chipped away at his lead and finished just seven seconds behind the Russian after the combined shoot/run, to clinch the silver. Mexico’s Uscanga Hernandez took the bronze. Lesun’s total of 1,479 was a new Olympic record.
“After I set a new record in the fencing, it was just a case of doing my job, I just had to keep my nerve,” said the 28-year-old Russian, who started the final component, the combined shoot/run a full none seconds ahead of his nearest rival. After the fencing, Lesun could afford a fairly low finish in the swimming (22nd), and in the show jumping where he knocked down three barriers. And even a slightly hesitant performance on the shooting range in the combined shoot/run could not dislodge him.
“I came here to win a medal,” said silver medallist Tymoshchenko, who moved from eighth to second overall during the combined pistol shooting/cross-country run. “I was under pressure because over the last year I’ve been getting my best results and I won the world title. I wanted to match that performance at the Olympic Games.”
Hernandez, who snuck onto the podium in the final metres of the run admitted to seeing his life passing in front of his eyes during those last seconds. “I saw my failures and my victories… everything that I had been through in the last years to get here and be able to seize my chance. I thought of two things. First, that this was the most important competition of my life, and second that I had the chance to make history for Mexico. I knew I had nothing to lose, and a huge amount to gain.”