Margaux Isaksen after competing in the women's pentathlon during the modern pentathlon world cup at Complexo Deodoro on March 20, 2013 in Rio de Janeiro.
The hometown cheers were something that two-time Olympian Margaux Isaksen had not often heard.
Not here. Not in the United States.
When she emerged from the riding portion of the UIPM World Cup Final on June 6 at the Sarasota Polo Grounds in Florida with one of the highest scores of the day, a large crowd attending the first pentathlon world cup final held in the United States in more than 40 years showed its appreciation.
“It was really amazing,” Isaksen, a two-time U.S. Olympian who finished fourth in 2012, said. “I finished my ride and I had a great ride. Everyone cheered and you could hear the cheering. They were really out there supporting everyone from all the different nations. But you could hear the round of applause. It was significantly louder when an American finished.”
Florida struck gold in its first hosting of a world cup final at the Sarasota Polo Grounds and Selby Aquatic Center on the state’s west coast. Thousands of spectators attended the competition that combines fencing, swimming, equestrian, running and shooting. A midway was created to house food vendors. Bands and circus acts entertained the crowds. Firework displays lit up the skies at night.
“I’ve been in this game since 1980, and I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Rob Stull, USA Pentathlon Managing Director and a three-time Olympian.
Fencing competition was held on an outdoor stage under blue skies.
“They just loved it,” Stull said. “The setting was unbelievable.”
The world cup final was just the start for the pentathlon venue in Lakewood Ranch, Florida, chosen by the UIPM to also host the 2016 world cup final and a 2015 world cup event. USA Pentathlon also picked the venue to host the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials, which will determine the team for the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympic Games.
Lakewood Ranch is located just outside of Sarasota and Bradenton in the Tampa Bay area.
Isaksen, who finished eighth in the women’s competition and 10th in the mixed relay with Nathan Schrimsher, was happy to see all the homeland support.
“It was really incredible, to say the least,” she said. “I’ve been to many countries before. It’s always so nice to see how the Hungarians are cheering for the Hungarians when you’re in Hungary. So to be in your home country and to have all the supporters, all the volunteers; Sarasota really did a phenomenal job of hosting this competition. It really exceeded all my expectations.”
USA Pentathlon holds national championships every year, including in early July at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado. World cup venues leading up to the London 2012 Olympic Games included Charlotte, North Carolina. But the world cup final in Florida created a special bond between athletes and spectators.
“I had so many people come up to me and just say, ‘We’re rooting for you, we’re so proud of you,’” Isaksen said. “It was absolutely amazing. I can’t really fully articulate what a great feeling it was to know all those people were out there supporting Team USA.”
Educating the spectators about the sport of pentathlon was a focus, Stull said. The equestrian venue at the Sarasota Polo Grounds was an especially popular spot.
“They (the athletes) would play to the crowd. Even after they finished their ride, the announcer said their name, and they’d turn around and wave to the crowd,” Stull said. “They really interacted. Not just our kids, but all of the athletes.”
The event was a big moment for USA Pentathlon, which not only had six athletes qualify for the world cup final in both the men’s and women’s competition but also brought all of its resident athletes and coaching staff to Florida from Colorado Springs.
“It certainly was an eye opener for them that pentathlon moved it up a notch,” Stull said. “I think it will excite them. I think it will fire the kids up. At the end of the day, they want to perform. They want to perform in front of a crowd. There’s nothing like doing your sport in front of a capacity crowd.”
Among those “kids” is Isabella Isaksen, Margaux’s younger sister who took up the sport just three years ago and finished 13th among 36 women in the world cup final. She finished seventh in the 2014 junior world championships.
“My sister, I am so proud of her. … I think she’s a force to be reckoned with,” Margaux Isaksen said. “The next few years, I think she’s definitely going to be one to watch. It’s so great to be out there together and do this sport with your sister. It’s really something very special.”
Other U.S. athletes in the world cup final were Samantha Achterberg, who placed 27th in the women’s competition; Schrimsher, 29th in men’s; Brendan Anderson, 32nd in men’s; and Dennis Bowsher, 36th in men’s.
The Isaksen sisters will compete alongside each other and against each other at the national championships, an event in which Margaux hopes to improve her shooting. It was a poor shooting score in Sarasota that prevented Margaux from winning a medal, and it is also an event that could boost her into medal contention at the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympic Games and also at the 2014 UIPM World Championships in September in Warsaw, Poland.
“I feel very confident in all my events except shooting,” said Isaksen, who won a world cup gold medal in 2013 in Rio de Janeiro and won a world title as a junior in 2012. “You’d think that it would be the easiest, but it’s really difficult. A lot of people shoot really well in practice, but it’s learning how to handle that pressure in competition. There’s no pressure like the Olympics. I think this is a good time to experiment.”