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Olympic Pentathletes voice concern over fifth sport potentially changing

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) -- "We were shocked by it."

That reaction from retired elite-level pentathlete, Avery Niemann, recounting news that her sport could be changing in its makeup.

Niemann, and fellow founder of non-profit Peak Pentathlon, Heidi Hendrick, are raising concerns over the horse riding portion of their five-pronged sport, being erased; a ninja warrior-type obstacle course, being put in its stead.

Heidi Hendrick

The Union Internationale de Pentathlon Moderne or UIPM, is set to vote on whether to axe horse riding Saturday, November 12th, during the sport's 2022 Congress.

The Pentathlon, one of the original competitions in the ancient Greek Olympics, was first devised to determine the "perfect" soldier among the ranks. At its outset, the skills of long jumping, javelin throwing, discus throwing, running, and wrestling were included. Around the turn of the century, however, the sport morphed to now include running, swimming, shooting, fencing, and horse riding. With that iteration, the sport came under a new name: Modern Pentathlon.

According to the two women, calls for reform on horse welfare have grown in recent years, but changes have been minimal.

Prior to competing in that portion of the sport, athletes randomly draw horses for competition; they do not ride their own horses.

During the Tokyo Games, German coach Kim Raisner, was seen punching her horse after it refused commands. A black card was then given to Coach Raisner, dismissing her from the remainder of the Games.

But November 2021, pentathletes were made aware the horse section could be changing. It was at that point, a grassroots effort was made: a letter was sent to the international governing body, UIPM, and USA Modern Pentathlon. 54 pentathletes -- from beginners to Olympians -- signed, begging that their sport remain unchanged.

"That letter was sent to the USOPC and USA Pentathlon going into Congress of last year and yet Rob Stull still voted on USA Pentathlon's behalf to remove riding, even after 54 athletes requested he not vote for that motion," said Niemann.

That is a reason why athletes are asking that USA Pentathlete CEO, Rob Stull, resign his position.

"Then as we came to find out, this was in the works behind the scenes for some time. Stull was on the board with World Obstacle at the same time that he was on the board of USA Pentathlon, as well as the international governing body of the pentathlon, UIPM, and so, there was a conflict of interest there," said Hendrick. "We actually inquired today, asking who would be voting on these motions? He has a clear conflict of interest. We don't even know who's going to be voting on our behalf in a congress that starts tomorrow."

In response, Rob Stull provided this statement to KRDO:

"The sports landscape has changed over the 100 years and Pentathlon must evolve to be relevant with the youth of today. The equestrian event has proven to be challenging for developing nations and in order to increase accessibility, improve global inclusion, lower costs and create a more fair playing field (horses are chosen by random draw) a change had to be made. 

Obstacle racing and particularly Ninja Obstacle style racing was selected from over 60 proposed sports in a year long process. The Ninja style obstacle follows the military theme and is attractive to today’s youth. In the next days the proposal will be passionately debated on the floor of our sport congress and a decision taken. I know there are many current and former athletes against this change but a global congress will democratically decide. Change is never easy. I just hope that the final result will exceed our expectations and we can bring Ninja to the games."

Rob Stull, CEO USA Pentathlon

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Heather Skold

Heather is the evening anchor for KRDO. Learn more about Heather here.


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