Two Egyptian modern pentathletes are going to Athens. Nashwa Abdel-Tawab sees how they did in what is known as the complete sport
The number of Egyptian athletes heading for Athens this summer to play in the Olympics is growing. Two more were added this week -- Raouf Hossam and Aya Medani, both winners of the modern pentathlon championship staged in Cairo.
Hossam, 22, qualified for the Olympics after garnering 5,320 points. "It's my greatest victory so far and I cherish it because it will be my first Olympics," Hossam said. Hossam started the pentathlon at 12 with his twin brother Mohamed and neighbour Ahmed Kotb. They were good swimmers and runners and wanted to play the "true Olympic sport that most accurately conveys the ideals of the Olympics".
In the women's event Medani, the youngest female in the four-member Egyptian team, became the African champion and Athens qualifier. Medani, who received 5,108 points, was the under-18 world champion in 2003. She started practising when she was nine and is taking it seriously. "I'm very happy I won. I was focussed and I hope to do well in my first Olympics." Hoda Ghoneim, 16, got 4,756; Omnia Fakhri, 23, received 4,600; Yasmine Khaled, 16, 3,944 points. Fakhri was the favourite but was unlucky in her riding.
"The Egyptian performance was great this year," coach Marek Makay said. "The men are close to world standards. The girls are young and talented. Some have power and others have technique and are promising." Makay has been supervising the pentathlon in Egypt for nine years and things have been "improving".
The athletes were competing in actually two events: the African Championship and the 22nd International Egyptian Modern Pentathlon Championship. Eighty-nine pentathletes representing 23 countries made the event competitive, "the toughest ever held in Cairo," Mohamed Demerdash Touni, head of the Egyptian Modern Pentathlon Federation (EMPF), said. "That's because it's an Olympic year. All the athletes wanted to increase their points to qualify for Athens this summer. That's why some of the best athletes came to compete."
Osama Kamel, EMPF executive general secretary, said that because only Egypt and South Africa participated in the African event, "we had to combine it with the international championship."
Competitors earned points for their performances in each of the five disciplines: shooting, fencing, swimming, riding and cross-country running. A points system for each event is based on a standard performance earning 1,000 points. The winner is the pentathlete who has accumulated the most points after the five events and crosses the finish line first.
The other three Egyptian pentathletes were close throughout. Ahmed Kotb received 5,280 points and Mohamed Hossam, Raouf's twin, 5,276. Emad El-Geziri, Africa's best player last year and an Olympic qualifier to Sydney, collected only 4,896 points. El-Geziri was fifth in the U-18 world championships in Germany in 1999. In 2002 he finished fourth in the U-21 world championships in Australia. "I was unlucky in horse riding and fencing and I lost points in those two disciplines," El-Geziri said.
El-Geziri, Kotb and Hossam will participate in the World Cup in Egypt next month.
Hungarian Gabor Balogh, 27, won the Egypt Open with 5,320 points. He was a silver medallist in Sydney and the world champion in 1999 and 2001.
Elen Rublevska from Latvia, 28, won the Egypt Open and is still in search of points to qualify for the Olympics. The world champion last year, Bea Simoka from Hungary, came in 31.
In the women's relay, Hungary came first followed by Egypt's A and B teams. In the men's relay, the Ukraine came first; Greece, second; and Egypt's B team, third.
The team relay consists of 16 teams of three athletes competing in a continuous relay completed in one day. Each team member fires 10 shots, swims 100m, fences one opposing team member, runs 1,500m and rides a horse over eight show jumps.
The pentathlon's current one-day format (7am to 7pm) starts with firing 20 air pistol shots, fencing every other competitor with epee swords for one hit within a time limit of one minute, swimming 200m in a free- style race, riding unfamiliar horses over show-jumping obstacles of up to 120 cm in height and 150 cm in spread, including one double and one triple, and running 3,000m over a cross-country or road course.
The modern pentathlon is considered a complete sport. Swimming and running are the basic disciplines; shooting requires stress control and precise technique; fencing needs adaptability; and intelligence and riding a horse, sometimes untried, requires a mix of adaptability, self-control and courage.
In the ancient Olympic Games 2,700 years ago, the pentathlon produced what was recognised as the best and most complete athletes. The Greek philosopher Aristotle is quoted as saying, "The most perfect sportsmen are the pentathletes because in their bodies strength and speed are combined in beautiful harmony."
The modern pentathlon was the idea of Pierre de Coubertin and is the only sport created solely for the Olympic Games. Included in every Olympic Games since 1912, it was designed to capture the true spirit and essence of the games, to promote the ideal of the complete and well-rounded athletic person that De Coubertin had in mind when he revived the Olympic Games.
The pentathlon was until recently difficult to follow for spectators since each event was held in a different venue over three days. In Cairo the event took place on one day, all in Nasr City but still at different sites.
In Sydney, the pentathlon was held in the Olympic baseball stadium and had more spectators (15,000) than the Cuba-US baseball gold medal game.
In past Olympics, the modern pentathlon has consistently been a sellout. One reason, apparently, is spectator fondness to see five sports for the price of one ticket.