Obstacle course racing’s path to the Olympics took another major step forward with the announcement of an Obstacle Discipline test event on a course in Ankara, Turkey on June 27-28.
The obstacle event, which is being tested to replace riding in modern pentathlon for the 2028 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, will feature athletes competing on an obstacle course up to 100 meters long, and with up to 10 obstacles.
The still-to-be-finalized list of obstacles could include ascending steps, a rope swing, a 1.5-meter wall, monkey bars, offset steps, a 0.5-meter low crawl, a rings rig, under-over-under-over, a wheels rig, a balance beam, angled ladders, and the “Tsunami” curved wall. Spartan and Tough Mudder obstacles could be included in the selection. Competitors will be broken into the following categories: Under 19, Junior and Senior Pentathletes, and experienced obstacle athletes.
The event will be held immediately following the UIPM (Union Internationale de Pentathlon Moderne) 2022 Pentathlon World Cup Final, which is set to take place on June 22-26. The first day (June 27) will include a practical explanation of the test event and a free training session, and the following day will feature the qualification and finals.
“We are thrilled to be collaborating with UIPM on the new fifth discipline,” said Ian Adamson, the president of World Obstacle, the international governing body for obstacle sports.”Obstacles have a long history in pentathlon, including the modern and ancient Olympic Games. Introducing obstacle disciplines that are watched and practiced by hundreds of millions of people in over 140 countries presents many opportunities for athletes, spectators, and the global sports audience.
“World Obstacle’s long-standing collaboration with Spartan Race helped set the foundation for the opportunities we have today.”
To confirm obstacle racing as the fifth discipline of modern pentathlon, it will have to be approved by the UIPM Congress. Subsequent approval by the International Olympic Committee in December would ensure that an obstacle discipline would be on the Olympic program after the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris.
What Is the Modern Pentathlon?
Modern pentathlon was devised by Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympic Games, as a test for the complete athlete. It made its debut at the 1912 Summer Olympics in Stockholm. Ancient pentathlon, the predecessor to modern pentathlon, was believed to have been contested for 1,100 years at the ancient Olympics Games.
Modern pentathlon consists of five disciplines: fencing, freestyle swimming, laser pistol shooting, running, and (formerly) show jumping. The obstacle discipline was selected for testing for a number of reasons, including its cost-effectiveness, its mass participation across the globe and its popularity with all age groups, and its simple and safe infrastructure for training.
Spartan founder and CEO Joe De Sena has been fighting for obstacle course racing to be featured in the Olympics for years, and has specifically mentioned modern pentathlon as a natural home for the sport.
"The ancient Spartans used obstacles to train their warriors," De Sena wrote in an op-ed for Sports Business Journal. "Around the same time, the Greeks held the first Olympic Games. There was no high-tech gear 2,500 years ago. They didn’t have a clue about aerodynamics. Those early Olympics were stripped down. It was all about the athletes and their inherent drive to be better, faster, and stronger. OCR is a modern-day expression of Spartan training and the first Olympians’ competitive spirit."
Joe's Full Op-Ed: Obstacle Course Racing Belongs in the Olympics
With Spartan leading the charge, obstacle course racing has emerged as a truly global sport over the last decade-plus. Spartan holds races in 45 countries, with 15 national series competitions spanning six continents in addition to regional European, Latin American, Asia-Pacific, and North American championship events. In December, the Spartan World Championship will be held in Abu Dhabi for a second consecutive year. Across the 45 countries in which Spartan has a foothold, 1.2 million Spartans competed in a race in 2021, and 7 million racers have crossed the finish line over the course of the company's history.