Dominic Mahony, Olympic Team Leader – Modern Pentathlon
The original ‘Road to Rio’ was a 1947 comedy film starring Bing Crosby and Bob Hope as two vaudeville actors ‘Scat’ and ‘Hot Lips’ escaping their bad fortune by stowing away on board a ship bound for Rio. One of the famous lines from the film was “Whaddaya Know? We never quite made it. Exciting, though... wasn't it?!” which is quite a good summary of how it felt to compete in the Olympic city just this month!
The Rio organisers have made great strides since I last visited in November 2014 with the Olympic Park and Athletes village looking largely finished and most of the venues undergoing final ‘snagging’ and testing. Based in the Deodoro Olympic zone, one of three in the city, Modern Pentathlon shares its venue with Rugby Seven’s (on the programme for the first time), Hockey, Basketball, Canoe Slalom and Mountain biking. In effect it is a twenty five square kilometre military base and it will take some effort to make it appear and feel anything different.
Despite efforts to get the venues complete, it was clear that the environment will be a challenging one in which to operate. During our five days of competition we had one athlete withdraw due to heat stress and a coach go down with a stomach bug. With mosquitoes clearly present at the venue we spent much of each afternoon outdoors applying industrial strength insect repellent. Of most concern to me in 2014 was the ‘river’ Maracas running through the middle of the venue which was in fact an open sewer… and it still is. I hope the organisers sort this out for public health, let alone public relations reasons.
As to the test competition, the Modern Pentathlon organisers provided first rate horses and a fair, challenging show-jumping course for our athletes. The pool, fencing venue and Combined Run/ Shoot arena were in close proximity and up to standard. Events got exciting on women’s finals day when a predicted tropical storm swept through the run/ shoot competition shortly after it had started. Nothing in the rules allows for the race to be stopped due to rain, and yet electronic laser pistols and targets on an uncovered range are clearly not designed to function when immersed in water. Up to 40% of competitors were effected including three from four British athletes, and the brave Brazilian star Yanne Marques was left to explain what had happened to her, to the Brazilian media. A re-think is required in time for the Games, no doubt.
The men’s competition went off to schedule and without a hitch, and overall the old military dictum that ‘time spent in reconnaissance is never wasted’ rings true. As Olympic selection approaches what did we learn?
That operating in Rio will be challenging and we need to expect the unexpected.
Team GB’s long range planning and ‘performance first’ mindset will give us an advantage over less prepared teams.
Our athletes are not yet where we need them to be in performance terms, and we’ve still got time to respond.
Our pentathletes head to Rome, Budapest, Sarasota and finally Moscow before we select our team in the first week of June. We anticipate seven will reach the standard from which we will have to select two men and two women; my least favourite job. The hopes and expectations of four years’ work rest on performing over the next ten weeks. Citius, Altius, Fortius.