Great Britain complete GOLDEN double in the modern pentathlon as Joseph Choong produces excellent laser run to win with sprint finish just 24 hours after Kate French came first in the women’s event
- Joseph Choong won Great Britain’s 20th medal of the Tokyo Olympics in the modern pentathlon to emulate Kate French in the women’s event on Friday
- He held a 12-second lead going into the laser run that culminates the event
- Choong was caught up by Egypt’s Ahmed Elgendy but sprinted away to win gold
Modern pentathlon is a simple sport. Thirty-six athletes fence, swim, ride, shoot and run over two days and, at the end, the British win.
Or at least that is how it has seemed this week at the Tokyo Stadium with Great Britain, the new pentathlon powerhouse, becoming the first country to do the men’s and women’s Olympic double.
History, however, tells a different tale because no British man had previously even won an individual medal in a sport that has been at each Games since 1912.
Joseph Choong won gold for Britain to complete fantastic 24 hours in modern pentathlon
The modern pentathlete, who hails from Kent, kisses his gold medal on the podium
Choong wasn’t entirely accurate in the four visits to the shooting range but did enough
His strength in the running enabled Choong to hold off his rivals to finish in first position
Joe Choong once called it a ‘curse’ and he appeared inflicted by it himself at Rio 2016 when he went into the final laser run in second before slipping down to tenth.
But five years on, he broke the hoodoo here, racing away down the final stretch of the course to take the tape and emulate the success of his team-mate Kate French just 24 hours earlier.
‘Kate and I always seem to match each other’s results so I was feeling the pressure to keep up with her,’ admitted the 26-year-old afterwards.
‘I’ve been thinking of this moment ever since I can remember. I’ve always said I’ve wanted to be the best in the world at something. This is a dream come true.’
Choong, a talented swimmer as a child, was first encouraged to take up modern pentathlon at his school and was earmarked as a potential gold medallist from an early age.
Choong competes in the show jumping stage of the modern pentathlon earlier on Saturday
Indeed, Kate Allenby, who won bronze for Team GB bronze at Sydney 2000, told a story on Twitter of how a coach, Charlie Unwin, rang her up in 2008 to say: ‘There’s this new boy at school, I think he will be Olympic champion one day.’
‘Obviously he was right,’ laughed Choong last night. ‘I remember Charlie selected me for a school biathlon team and that’s how I got into it.
‘I got picked as a wildcard for the Under-16s European Championships, which I ended up winning and obviously success is pretty fun.’
It sure is and Choong had plenty of it here. The world No1 led from the fencing ranking round on Thursday, then kept his advantage at the top of the leaderboard after having the third-fastest 200m freestyle swim in the outdoor pool in the middle of the Tokyo Stadium.
The gold medallist takes on Alexander Lifanov of the Russian Olympic Committee in fencing
After the bonus fencing round, came the lottery of the showjumping. Here, athletes have just 20 minutes to bond with a horse they have never ridden before and it can prove the downfall of many a pentathlon campaign. Fortunately for Choong, he was drawn with Clntino – the same horse French successfully rode on Friday.
‘I was just thinking, “Don’t get one of the difficult ones”,’ he said. ‘But I got the same one Kate got so it’s obviously a bit of a lucky charm.’
Although Choong had 14 faults, it was enough to secure him a 12-second lead over South Korea’s Jung Jin-hwa going into the concluding laser run – four laps of 800m, punctuated by four shooting stages, where athletes have to hit a 10m target five times before they can move on.
Choong started the laser run with a 12-second advantage and didn’t relinquish his lead
Kate French won a sensational gold medal for Team GB in the women’s modern pentathlon
The shooting was Choong’s undoing in Rio, prompting him to quip on Twitter: ‘Anyone who’s seen my Tinder bio, I’m sorry. I claim to have good trigger control… it turned out to be a lie.’
That trigger control appeared to be letting him down again when he missed three shots on his first trip to the range, causing his opponents to eat into his lead. Yet Choong composed himself to hit 15 out of his next 17 attempts.
Still, he had company in the form of Ahmed Elgendy, who had started the laser run in 13th and had somehow caught up to overtake Choong on the last lap. But if hearts were in mouths back in Britain, there were no such fears on the course as Choong sprinted past the Egyptian with 200m to go and finished five seconds clear of him with a new Olympic record points score.
Choong (centre) has his face mask adjusted by bronze medallist Jun Woong-tae (right) of South Korea on the podium. Egypt’s Ahmed Elgendy (left) won silver.
Britain’s James Cooke, seen participating in the horse jumping, finished in ninth place overall
‘Anyone who has followed the sport since 2019 knew there was only going to be one person winning that last 800m,’ said Choong, whose British team-mate Jamie Cooke finished ninth. ‘I’ve traditionally always had a really quick finish and I felt pretty confident that I was going to have him at the end.’
It was a thrilling finish and showcased the best this quirkiest of sports has to offer, but that is not enough for Olympic organisers. The format of the modern pentathlon is controversially changing again for Paris 2024, when all five disciplines will be staged under one roof in 90 minutes.
That has left many athletes questioning their future in sport, but Choong revealed he has an extra motivation to stay on for the next Games – the chance to compete with his brother Henry, another rising pentathlon star.
‘I will have to see how this new format suits me, it’s going to require a different set of skills,’ he added. ‘But one of the biggest things for me is going to be my brother. Winning an Olympic medal is amazing but competing in an Olympics with my brother would be pretty close to that.’
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