July 17, 2012
When fencer Pierre de Coubertin founded the modern Olympics in 1896, he included his beloved sport as one of the events, and fencing has been featured in every Olympics since. Coubertin also created a new event, the Modern Pentathlon, to test the skills required by a 19th century soldier behind enemy lines; riding an unfamiliar horse, fighting with pistol and sword, swimming, and running.
Today’s Modern Pentathlon is competed by both men and women, among them, Olympics bound Suzanne Stettinius of Parkton, MD. Stettinius is one of three Team USA Pentathletes who qualified to compete at the London 2012 Olympics. Suzanne trains with her longtime coach, Bin Lu of Baltimore Fencing Center. For months prior to qualifying, 24-year-old Stettinius drove more than two hours round trip from northern Maryland to DC Fencers Club (DCFC) to hone her skills in epee with longtime DC Fencers Club member Damien Lehfeldt. Fencing is the first event in Modern Pentathlon, where competitors fence a one-touch epee match against each of the other competitors in round-robin format.
Stettinius recently shared her thoughts about her sport, the road to the Olympics, and training at DC Fencers Club.
DC Fencers Club has been great! It’s so great to walk into practice and have so many different people to fence. I love that everyone is there until at least 10:00 p.m. as well. Damien [Lehfeldt] has been great! He has so much energy, it keeps the lesson interesting throughout. At tournaments, he always helps me stay in the game, let touches go and move on. I have really enjoyed working with him and my fencing has really improved already!
Which is your favorite sport in Modern Pentathlon? Which is the most challenging?
I came from a riding background so I would say the horseback riding is my favorite. The most challenging for me is the fencing. With the running and swimming it’s all about training hard and then I just go and do what I can. But the fencing is not like that, as you know. There are days that I really feel like nothing is working! The hardest part is just letting touches go and focusing on the next touch!
What do you like best about fencing?
What I like most about pentathlon fencing is that anything can happen! It is only one touch, you can hit anybody one time! Of course you can also be hit by a horrible fencer one time. But that is the key with Pentathlon fencing, going into every bout knowing that you can hit them, no matter how good they are.
I am still in disbelief about the Olympics. The OLYMPICS! It's so crazy. I grew up watching the Olympics with my siblings and now they will be watching me live. It's been a long road and I am so happy that it all paid off. The first time I knew I had a chance at the Olympic team was at the World Cup in 2011 (Guadalajara, Mexico). It was my first World Cup back since 2007 and I was 1st place for the US and 18th in the world. I was so excited to have such an awesome comeback! There were some injuries between then and now that almost ruined everything, but I knew that the Olympics were in sight, I kept going. If I didn't make the team I wanted to make sure I gave it everything I had.
What's the best advice you ever received as a competitive athlete?
The best advice I have ever received was when I was about five years old. I threw a huge hissy fit after losing a swim race and my dad took me aside and said, “you can’t win them all.” Which of course has carried me through my life. If I gave up every time I lost, or messed up, or got hurt, the Olympics would not even be a possibility in my life.
Suzanne Stettinius will compete in the Modern Pentathlon on Sunday, August 12, 2012 starting at 3:00 am ET with the one-touch epee match. Visit www.nbcolympics.com to check local TV schedules for Olympic coverage. For more information on Suzanne, visit her website, www.suzanne.mintmeadows.com.
Fast facts about Modern Pentathlon
- The ancient Olympic Pentathlon was introduced at the 18th Olympiad in 708 BC, and consisted of running the length of the stadium, jumping, throwing the spear, throwing the discus and wrestling.
- The Modern Pentathlon was introduced in 1912 at the fifth Olympiad in Stockholm, Sweden, and features pistol shooting, fencing, swimming, horse riding and running.
- Women first competed in the Modern Pentathlon in 2000 at the Sydney (Australia) Olympics.
- Pierre de Coubertin, father of the modern Olympics, believed that the Modern Pentathlon "tested a man’s moral qualities as much as his physical resources and skills, producing thereby the ideal, complete athlete.”
- World War II General George S. Patton was a young American Lieutenant when he finished fifth in the first Modern Pentathlon Olympic competition in 1912.
- From 1912 to 1980, the Olympic modern pentathlon was held over five days with one event per day. Now, the event is held in one day. Competitors score points in the first three events, which decide their starting position for the final combined event of pistol shooting and running. The first one over the line wins the gold medal.
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