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Modern Pentathlon Seeks Fans

AP Sports Writer
Monday, July 29, 1996 5:04 pm EDT

ATLANTA (AP) -- How do you promote a sport that's in danger of being bumped from the Olympics by ballroom dancing or surfing?

Michael Gostigian, the only American in this year's modern pentathlon, likes to compare the little-publicized sport to one that is much more popular.

``It's like golf,'' says Gostigian, a former high school golf champion from Newtown Square, Pa. ``The concentration is the same for shooting and putting. It takes a good deal of strength to swim and run or smack a ball off the tee. And the finesse you need to ride a horse is like what you need for a good short game.''

Unlike golf, modern pentathlon's galleries are shrinking. In recent Olympics, the competition in shooting, fencing, running, swimming and riding was spread out over several days. The schedule made it difficult to attract fans or keep them interested.

Not now. All five events will be held Tuesday, starting with the shooting at 7 a.m. and ending with a 2 1/2-mile run 12 1/2 hours later.

To expedite the competition, the field has been trimmed to 32, or one-third of the 96 entrants in Seoul in 1988, when fencing alone took an entire day.

``I think there's much more continuity,'' Gostigian said. ``It's gone from being the most boring event in the Olympics to the best value.''

No doubt the International Olympic Committee will be counting the house.

``The best thing that happened was (IOC President) Juan Antonio Samaranch rattling our cage and saying we needed to get our act together and find a way to make it more interesting,'' Gostigian said. ``We've got ballroom dancing and surfing ready to kick us off the Olympic bus.''

Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the father of the modern-day Olympics, believed modern pentathlon was the ultimate challenge of the soldier-athlete. Among the first competitors was an American Army lieutenant -- George S. Patton -- who finished fifth in the 1912 games.

No American has won a modern pentathlon gold medal in the Olympics. In 1979, Bob Nieman won the world championship in Budapest, but stayed home the next year when the United States boycotted the Moscow Games.

Gostigian, 33, finished third in the World Cup finals in Atlanta last year, but isn't among the favorites in a select field that includes two-time world champion Dmitriv Svatskovskiy of Russia; 1988 Olympic bronze medalist Vakhtang Iagorachvili of Georgia and 1995 European champion Sebastien Deleigne of France.

By Wednesday morning, Gostigian plans to be retired from the sport.

``If I keep doing modern pentathlon, then's it's becoming a bad habit,'' he said.

© Copyright 1996 The Associated Press

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