In modern pentathlon, a sport held only for men at the Olympics until 2000, Team USA’s best shot at podium status at the Pan American Games comes from the women’s side.
Margaux Isaksen, ranked No. 9 in the world (as of July 13), is a strong medal contender in Toronto. After winning the 2011 Pan Am Games and finishing fourth at the 2012 Olympics, Isaksen hopes to defend her Pan Am title in Toronto.
Perhaps more important than a gold medal is the opportunity to qualify for the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team, which is on the line for all modern pentathletes competing in Toronto. A top three finish on either the men’s or women’s side will qualify an athlete directly to the Olympic team, with a maximum of one man and one woman per nation.
“She a fighter, very aggressive, and she channels that aggression into each sport,” Dennis Bowsher of the men’s team said of Isaksen. “Even when she’s tired, she able to dig down and put in a really good race.”
Isaksen is the only athlete in the world to complete a “hat trick” this year. She reached the podium in all three world cups that she competed in to hold the No. 1 spot in the world cup rankings headed into the World Cup Final, where she finished sixth.
Samantha Achterberg will join Isaksen on the women’s side, while Bowsher and Pvt. Nathan Schrimsher represent the men.
Achterberg is competing in first her Pan American Games. Coming off a win in the U.S. championships in May, she is continuing to improve heading into her Pan Am debut.
“Sometimes I'm like ‘OK, I just want to train everything and do well in every area,’” Achterberg said. “It’s difficult to find balance. Cross-training is our training, so I don’t have to, say, swim 10 hours a day to focus on one sport.”
Bowsher is familiar with spending most of his time in the pool. The former swimmer competed in the modern pentathlon at the 2007 and 2011 Pan Ams, as well as the 2012 Olympic Games in London.
After failing to make the podium in his previous Pan Am appearances, Bowsher hopes three is the magic number.
“I’m just going to treat it like any other competition, even though this is like the Olympic Games, with the village and getting apparel,” Bowsher said. “I’m not letting everything overwhelm me.”
Modern pentathlon involves five events competed in a single day. After the first three events (fencing, swimming, equestrian), the athletes’ total scores are used to determine the starting order for the run/shoot segment. In this final event, athletes shoot at targets with laser pistols after running numerous 1,000-meter stretches. The first across the finish line wins.
Nathan Schrimsher recently won the gold medal at the 2015 Pentathlon Pan American Cup.
The event hosted athletes from the U.S., Mexico and South America in Colorado Springs, Colorado, this May. For the first time in history, Team USA swept the medals on both the men and women’s sides.
Now the U.S. is hoping to make a strong appearance on the podium in Toronto.
B. A. Marseille is a student in the Sports Media Certificate program at the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication.