‘Dream come true’ for history-making ‘all-round athlete’ Joe Choong
History-maker Joe Choong said he always wanted to be “the best in the world at something” after winning gold in the modern pentathlon.
The 26-year-old, from Kent, triumphed in the event which features swimming, fencing, riding and a laser run whereby each participant runs laps interspersed with a required laser shoot.
His victory comes after Kate French won gold in the women’s event on Friday.
Choong is the first British man to win an individual Olympic medal in the sport that has been in the programme at every Games since 1912.
“I’ve always said I wanted to be the best in the world at something,” he told the BBC, adding that his Olympic victory was “a dream come true”.
Athletes taking part in the modern pentathlon event are “truly the all-round athlete”, according to Sara Heath, CEO of Pentathlon GB.
She told the PA news agency: “The thing is, it is a sport that although it looks very hard, it is very accessible.
“If you can swim and you can run, and you’ve got that engine, you can learn the rest, and obviously we’ve done that with Joe.
“We’ve taught him to ride and we’ve taught him to fence, so it is something that you can do, and it is accessible.
“But you need to be able to swim and run, because that’s where, as shown today with Joe’s run, he had to be able to run away from the Egyptian athlete, and he did that.”
The Pentathlon GB website says fans of modern pentathlon will be familiar with the 19th century origin story of the sport – “a young French cavalry officer being sent on horseback to deliver a message, needing to fight with a sword, shoot, swim and run to complete his mission”.
It says the power of five sports makes the top modern pentathletes “probably some of the most adaptable, technical and tactical competitors around”.
Ms Heath said the original concept for the event comes from the idea of “the true athlete, the true soldier” having to run, shoot, fence or sword fight and “ride an unknown steed”.
“But when it was created for the modern Games it was very much showcasing the true athlete who could do a wide range of disciplines,” she said.
The event will have a new format at Paris 2024, packing the disciplines into two hours.
Ms Heath said it will be “very different but fantastic from a spectator point of view”, adding it will be harder than it is now as the distances will be staying the same.
“So, actually, it will be a better test of the athletes because it will be those who have that ability to recover, refocus and move on to the next as quickly as possible,” she said.
She said she is “absolutely delighted” at Choong’s success.
“We knew Joe could do it, just as we knew Kate could do it, but for them to actually go and do it has just been absolutely incredible,” she said.
“Obviously this is the first ever medal for men’s individual for GB, so he literally has written history.
“So, we’re incredibly proud.”
Joe’s mother Beverley Choong said she was “over the moon” at his success.
She watched his triumph at home on television with her husband, son and son’s girlfriend, surrounded by flags, bunting and memorabilia.
Ms Choong told PA: “It’s very tense watching it.”
Asked how she thinks Joe will be feeling, she said: “I think relieved today, over the moon, I think every emotion possible.
“Everything he’s been working for, all the sacrifices, thankful to all his team-mates, his coaches.”
She said he will be grateful to everyone in the team as “it’s not just a one-man show”.
Ms Choong said training in five sports is “incredibly different” because you cannot just excel at one.
“You’ve got to keep fit in so many ways. It’s each muscle group that needs to be fit for a different discipline,” she said.
Ms Choong, from Orpington, said she is looking forward to seeing Joe as she has not seen him in two or three months.
“I’ll be looking forward to it because we’ve not been able to see him for a while because of Covid,” she said.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeted: “@TeamGB taking Olympic gold in both men’s and women’s modern pentathlon is an incredible achievement. Joe Choong and Kate French you’ve made us very proud!”
Stephen Baddeley, director of sport at the University of Bath, said: “Huge congratulations to Joe. We are privileged to see him training day in, day out at the university and it was clear he had the ability, determination and belief to become an Olympic champion, so for him to put it all together in one historic performance was wonderful to see.
“That is a second gold for Pentathlon GB in 24 hours, both won by University of Bath graduates, and a seventh medal in six Olympic Games while they have been based at the Team Bath Sports Training Village, so massive praise has to go to performance director Jan Bartu and all of the athletes, coaches and staff – we are incredibly proud of you all.”
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