Olympic Arcana: Colorado’s Samantha Schultz Is A Longshot To Win Modern Pentathlon


According to 19th-century French lore, a young calvary officer hopped on a horse to deliver a message one day. But the delivery did not go smoothly, as he had to ride that horse hard, fight with a sword and gun, and also swim and run to complete his mission.

This calvary officer’s journey is the basis for modern pentathlon, which is perhaps the least modern event at the Tokyo Olympics. But just because the sport has been in the Olympics since 1912 (2000 for women; progress is slow in some quarters), that doesn’t make it easy to handicap.

“I don’t know if it’s any easier, even though I know it’s been around for 100 years,” said DraftKings Sportsbook Director of Operations Johnny Avello. “When you look at the favorites in each category, it’s not like they’re Katie Ledecky-type favorites. These are really wide open [events]. I think there’s some great value all the way down the line.”

With 35 participants on the women’s side and 36 male pentathletes, options abound for sports bettors. Here’s what you’ll need to know to make a (somewhat) informed choice:

How it’s played

Modern pentathlon mimics the French calvary officer’s epic saga, requiring athletes to compete in five categories: horseback riding, fencing, swimming, distance running, and target shooting. Running and shooting were combined in 2012 and comprise the final stage of the competition. The consolidated phase is now known as the Laser-Run, wherein, according to the Tokyo Games’ website, “athletes must complete four circuits shooting five targets from a distance of 10m within 50 seconds using a laser pistol, and running 800m.”

“The challenge is to maintain a good speed then catch your breath to shoot calmly and carefully,” the site’s description reads. Seems like James Bond would be pretty good at this if he cut back on nicotine and martinis.

Fencing and swimming (200-meter freestyle) are pretty straightforward, but the riding component contains an interesting wrinkle. Here, competitors “must ride an unfamiliar horse over a show-jumping course without incurring penalties.”

An unfamiliar horse? Say what? Could a rogue pony throw everything into disarray?

Not likely, says Avello.

“If you can’t ride your own horse that you’re very accustomed to, that certainly has an impact,” he told CO Bets. “But everybody’s doing the same thing. So if you’re a professional in this, I think you can get on any horse and perform well.”

Who could win

Is it possible to be a live longshot at gold-medal odds of 1,000/1? Avello thinks that might be the case with Team USA’s lone female entrant, Samantha Schultz. The Denver native is a seven-time national champion who, according to her bio, is fond of hip-hop and country music. Thanks to Sam Hunt, those genres have now become one.

DraftKings’ favorite to win women’s gold is Englishwoman Kate French (+400), who finished fifth in the 2016 Rio Games and is threatening to retire because she’s upset that the entire pentathlon will be scrunched into 90 minutes at the 2024 Paris Games, presumably to attract a wider TV audience. Modern Pentathlon is, in fact, the least-watched Olympic sport, lagging far behind its nearest rival, trampolining.

On the men’s side, the current U.S. national champion, Amro Elgiziry, has a 65/1 shot to win gold, while the favorite is another Briton, Johnny Choong (+400). Next in line is Frenchman Valentin Prades (+450), whose premature celebration near the finish line of the 2018 World Championships cost him the top spot. Atonement is a mighty motivator, so he might be the pick — although the reigning world champion, Adam Marosi, boasts tremendous value at odds of 20/1.

When the finals are

For the women, Friday, Aug. 6, at 7:30 p.m. Tokyo time. Same time for the men, but on Saturday, Aug. 7.

Photo: USA Today

Mike Seely has written about horse racing for The Daily Racing Form and America’s Best Racing, and has contributed pieces on a multitude of topics to The New York Times and Los Angeles Times, among other publications. He can be reached on Twitter (@mdseely) or via email at mseely@bettercollective.com.

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