Modern pentathlon-Egypt sees future boost in replacing horses with courses

FILE PHOTO: Pentathlon - Women's Riding

By Alan Baldwin

LONDON (Reuters) - Charlie, the only horse owned by the Egyptian modern pentathlon federation for training purposes, will be out of a job after the Paris Olympics but his country's future medal prospects may be all the brighter for it.

The five-discipline sport is preparing for a major shift, with the equestrian element - riding unfamiliar horses drawn at random - replaced by obstacle racing from the 2028 Games in Los Angeles.

The move to a future without horses, and with competitors having instead to scramble over obstacle courses, has been controversial with some current competitors threatening to walk away.

Egypt's performance director Yasser Hefny told a video press conference on Tuesday the change could be a boost for countries like his.

"We are having good performances with riding but for sure with (the) obstacles it is going to be more accessible for us, easier to do in school, easier to train, easier to have it in our wide community of local clubs," said the 2012 Olympian.

"I think we might have actually better results in the future.

"We have had already great results in the youth and junior levels last year and this year also," the 35-year-old added.

The Egyptian men have taken two medals in all four regular season World Cup events this year and the country also topped the medal table at last year's world championships.

Ahmed Elgendy won individual silver at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics in one of the Games' more obscure sports that features show jumping, laser pistol shooting, cross country running, freestyle swimming and epee fencing.

On the women's side, 2018 Olympic youth champion Salma Abdelmaksoud finished fourth in last month's world championships.

The Egyptian athletes have also been a force to reckon with at junior level.

"They've been growing over the last 10 years," Britain's 2018 world champion Jamie Cooke told Reuters.

"Egypt were kind of always bumbling away, they were relatively strong but only one or two athletes ... their juniors, they really invested in juniors probably eight years ago, are now seniors and they are flying."

Pentathlon goes through cycles, with the swimming a key element 12 years ago, then running, and Cooke said Egypt was now reaping dividends from fencing.

Hefny, who is also chair of the world body's athletes' committee, said riding had always been a weakness for his compatriots.

"We have to be realistic, riding is a sport of rich people," he said.

"What we own as the Egyptian federation is only one horse ... I think we should have a statue for Charlie in the future in our training facility."

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin; Editing by Alison Williams)