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Horses out, bikes in, as modern pentathlon fights to keep Olympic place

Sport’s governing body reportedly recommends change following Tokyo controversy when coach punched reluctant horse

Bikes are set to replace horses in modern pentathlon as the sport’s governing body tries to keep its place in the Olympic Games after it became engulfed in negative headlines around the world this summer when a coach for the German team punched a horse that refused to jump.

German athlete Annika Schleu, who had been in the gold medal position prior to the equestrian round, was left in tears when the horse, Saint Boy – randomly assigned to her, as all mounts are in the competition – decided it was not going to co-operate by jumping the fences.

The coach, Kim Raisner, was sent home from the Games, the second fron the German delegation after another coach was caught on camera urging Nikias Arndt during the men’s individual time trial to “catch the camel drivers” – a reference to competitors ahead of him who were from Algeria and Eritrea.

> German Olympic coach behind “camel drivers” racist remark sent home from Tokyo

The sport, based on the skills deemed essential to cavalry officers, was devised by modern Olympic Games founder Baron Pierre de Coubetrtin and made its first appearance at Stockholm in 1912.

It comprises five disciplines – fencing, swimming, show jumping, pistol shooting, and cross-country running.

The pistols used nowadays fire a laser beam rather than live rounds, and in line with a wider narrative surrounding equestrian events at the Olympics, there had been calls for the horseback element to be removed, even before this summer’s debacle.

And over the past decade, the International Olympic Committee has considered dropping the sport, which receives minimal exposure outside the Games, altogether.

The Guardian reports that the executive board of the sport’s governing body, the Union Internationale de Pentathlon Moderne (UIPM) is now recommending that bikes replace horses for Paris 2024 – although some athletes and national federations may oppose the move.

A spokesperson for the UIPM told the Guardian: “I am not able to give you any information right now.”

But in a subsequent statement, the governing body said: “As part of UIPM’s commitment to maintaining a strong, dynamic profile for modern pentathlon, a series of strategic meetings are being held.

“These meetings will include an upcoming call with national federations later this week. The outcome of these meetings will be detailed in a press release to be published on 4 November.”

Both the men’s and women’s individual gold medals in Tokyo went to Team GB athletes, won respectively by Joe Choong and Kate French.

The assignment of horses to riders by lottery in the event has had some on Twitter – including British Cycling head of media, Scott Dougal – wondering whether bicycles may be matched with competitors in the same way, should the predicted change of steed happen.

Simon joined as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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