David Svoboda of the Czech Republic captured the first gold medal for his country in the men’s modern pentathlon, a century after Pierre de Coubertin introduced the sport to the Olympics.
Svoboda, 27, finished the five-part event with 5,928 points, ahead of China’s Cao Zhongrong at 5,904. Adam Marosi of Hungary won the bronze medal at 5,836.
The competition began with 35 fencing bouts, followed by 200-meter freestyle swimming, both at the main Olympic Park in east London. The athletes then traveled to Greenwich Park for the riding, running and shooting phases. For the first time in Olympic history, athletes replaced traditional pellet guns with laser pistols in a combined shoot-and-run to the finish line.
The pentathlon of the games in ancient Greece included running, jumping, spear and discus throwing, and wrestling. The selection of sports for the modern version was based on the legend of a military officer sent to deliver a message, a mission that required shooting, fencing, swimming, equestrian and running.
Svoboda, wearing a blue bandana for luck, started the day strongly, winning 26 of 35 fencing bouts and finishing with 1,024 points to tie the Olympic record.
Cao drew ahead during the swimming phase with a time of 1 minute, 58.93 seconds. In Greenwich, the competitors were given 20 minutes and five practice jumps to get to know their horse before facing 12 fences. Pentathletes are docked points for falling, having their horse refuse or knock down a jump, and not completing the course in the allotted time.
South Korea’s Woojin Hwang fell before starting when his horse reared up and went over. Hwang remounted and was loudly applauded across the finish line by the Greenwich crowd. Svoboda retopped the leaderboard after the ride, in spite of being penalized for knocking down three fences and finishing two seconds beyond the time limit.
The Czech athlete’s first-place score after the first three phases of the event converted into a one-second head start over Cao going into the run. The two fell in and out of the lead position before Svoboda pulled ahead in the last 1,000 meters.
In its debut at the 1912 Stockholm Games, the event attracted 32 men from 10 countries including U.S. Army General George Patton, who as a then-lieutenant placed fifth. The women’s event tomorrow will be the last of the London 2012 Olympics.