Under the Sardinian Sky

April 27, 2011, 8:24 p.m. (ET)

The second Pentathlon World Cup, which just concluded in Sassari, Italy, on the island of Sardinia, provided a great opportunity for American Pentathletes to compete against the best athletes in the world while experiencing Sardinian culture—a two-for-one that was hard to beat! Sardinia, located in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, is actually part of Italy, but is off the beaten track for most tourists and athletes. One of the great benefits to being part of Team USA is the opportunity to travel around the world. So in addition to our primary goal of competing well, we also try and see a bit of where we are in the world and do our part to represent our nation well.

Located closer to Africa than Italy, Sardinia’s turquoise sea and white sandy beaches rival the tropics. Away from the coast, the scenery can be similarly stunning with a pastoral quilt of forested mountain peaks, valleys of citrus groves and pastures of happily grazing cattle and sheep.  Northern Sardinia, where Team USA competed, has a fascinating Catalan history (the language is still spoken here), and the town of Sassari has a delightful old town centre. Traditional culture thrives most vigorously in the heartland where the elderly women are still draped in black; here tourists are rare – but ultimately welcomed. Across the landscape are scattered 7000 nuraghi, strange conical stone fortresses seemingly built by a Sardinian Fred Flintstone.
Sardinia distinguishes itself in the kitchen with hearty pastas and a love for pungent local cheeses, like pecorino and smoked ricotta. We were lucky in that we visited during one of the best times of the year, when the wildflowers are in bloom, and the heat of summer has not yet descended on the island. Sardinia, in the end, is a lot like Pentathlon, in that it combines a diverse mixture of elements to create a wonderful and unique end result; Sardinia is an eclectic blend of cultures and continents—a little bit of Europe, a touch of Africa, a dash of Spain-- but all Italian.
The competition was particularly exciting for the ladies—the unprecedented number of women who entered the competition meant that, instead of the usual two semi-finals, there would be three.  In order to qualify for the final, female participants would have to be among the top twelve finishers in their semi-final group. I found this exceptionally exciting and telling given that it shows the sport is growing and becoming more competitive globally.

Personally, the long travel and eight-hour time change was more difficult to overcome than usual. My teammates and I tried to prepare as well as we could for the competition. My semi-final went well. I felt tired and weak but still fenced well, had a strong swim, and was able to run easily the last 1,000 meters to qualify for the final, actually winning my semi-final group. My three teammates Michelle Kelly, Rendy Lynn Opdycke and Samantha Achterberg (Rendy and Samantha both making their second World Cup appearances), unfortunately did not make it through to the final and placed 21st, 23rd, and 22nd, respectively in their semi-final groups. However, their placings are not indicative of their performances. Pentathlon is as much about learning how to juggle the five events as it is to actually do them. They each performed well, and then typically had problems in one discipline which was enough at this level to keep them out of the final.  That said, it was a great learning experience for everyone, as each of us continues to improve as we put more competition experience under our belts.
In the women’s final, my day began with difficulty. One of those days where you wake up and want to press “pause” and then “reset”. My fence was disappointing and my swim was slower than I expected. Everything seemed to be a struggle as jet lag kicked in and I was feeling extremely tired before the competition had even begun.—that’s the only explanation I can come up with.  On the positive side, I did manage to come back from my tough start with a perfect, and incredibly fun, 1200-point ride, putting me in 11th overall going into the combined event—and providing me a bit of vindication after my disappointing ride in Palm Springs. Less than one minute separated 1st from 15th places going into the start of the event. Generally, the combined is usually my best event. Unfortunately, Saturday it was my worst. A tough shoot pushed me back to finish overall in 15th position. I am learning from every competition and moving on with my preparations for Budapest! I am excited to compete again and happy the team is coming together.
On the men’s side, Dennis Bowsher’s performance provided an incredibly exciting final 1,000 meters as he narrowly missed the 12th place slot to qualify for the final, finishing in 13th—the second time in two World Cups that this has happened—he is due for a break!! Sam Sacksen finished 17th with an outstanding combined. His time in the combined was 2nd overall in his semi-final and on the positive side, had he fenced the score he did in Palm Springs, he would have won his semi-final group by over 100 points!  Eli Bremer, fighting injuries had strong events but finished 23rd in his semi-final after the sights on his pistol were broken during weapons testing by the officials. Nathan Schrimsher, who did so well at the Youth Olympic Games last summer was scheduled to compete but became seriously ill on his way to the airport en route to Italy and therefore did not make the trip.
Following the men’s and women’s finals, Team USA got the chance to participate in the mixed relay. The relay event is being seriously discussed as a medal event for the Rio 2016 Olympics and so every time we have an opportunity to participate is a good thing.  Dennis Bowsher and I represented Team USA. USAP uses the policy of selecting participants based on the individual results of the competition. We had a great day, fencing over 900 points, swimming well, and riding beautifully. We started the combined event in 1st place with China 0:02 back. Unfortunately, again, I had another rough shoot and we finished in 7th place. Dennis and I had such a great time! I hope to have the opportunity to take part in the relay again!
Outside of the competition, on rest days, everyone got a chance to relax on the gem of this Italian island called Sardinia. We experienced some of the local culture and represented our nation well to the locals. Personally, I didn’t do much sightseeing but I know that some of my teammates enjoyed their time at the beach and around the city of Sassari. Now it’s back to training and preparation for Budapest next week. If only I could recover from this jet lag my life would be so much easier!! :) Thanks to all the Pentathlon and Team USA supporters, we could not do this without you!