Saturday, January 10, 2009

What it takes

Hi all! Hope everyone is having a great start to the new year and gearing up for what promises to be a tough year financially, but an exciting one in sporting terms!

I was amazed to see the number of multi-sport endurance events that have sprung up on the local calendar this year and it really looks like Singaporeans are embracing the concept of multi-sports such as triathlons, biathlons, duathlons and adventure racing.

As pentathlon is pretty much the new kid on the multi-sport scene, I thought I'd share a little bit about what goes into making a top pentathlete.

I competed in pentathlon in Europe for three years back in my university days and got to watch some of the best athletes from around the region in action. I got to train with the British national team and three of my friends took home gold, silver and bronze in the women's event at the Sydney Olympics in 2000.

While it may sound like a hodge-podge of unrelated events that rewards "jack-of-all-trades", it's quite obvious that "masters-of-none" are not going to take home the gold. A look at the timings of the swim and run events at the Olympics show that the winners are clocking almost world-class times (we'll have more details of that up here soon for those statistics fans). I've known pentathletes who compete on the elite world cup fencing circuit and actually win events there. And the shooting and riding standards are also approaching the top levels in the individual sports.

So what makes a top pentathlete tick? Traditionally, coaches would look for athletes who have a strong swimming background. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, swim technique is not easy to pick up and anyone who has swum from an early age would have a distinct advantage in terms of "feel for the water" and technique compared to anyone who starts later. This takes years to develop. Furthermore, swimmers who have trained seriously for competition know what it means to put in long hours, sometimes twice a day, and have also developed superior aerobic capacities (lung and heart) without having subjected their bodies to the pounding of other sports like running. This then transfers well to the other physical sports.

The next attribute or focus for training development would be to transfer some of that swim fitness to running and improving running technique. At the same time, the skill elements of shooting and fencing will be introduced along with the excitement and challenge of horse-riding.

Certain countries are known for their tradition of excellence in certain events. The Brits are excellent riders, the Americans produce top-notch swim-runners, the French typically are brilliant fencers and so on. Maybe Singapore can become famous for being masters of ALL.

Have a great weekend and train smart!

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