British pentathletes reset their focus - from training to decorating - after Olympic delay

They can fence, swim, ride, shoot and run at an Olympic level, but they’re powerless when it comes to the spread of a global pandemic, writes Mark Stillman.

Instead, the UK’s finest pentathletes will be left twiddling their thumbs this summer. Or in Jamie Cooke’s case, finishing some decorating.

Cooke was a world champion in 2018, becoming the first British male to win the modern pentathlon world title for 25 years. An incredible conclusion in the final run-shoot prepared him for similar dashes around the shops recently.

He said: “When I heard we were going into lockdown I stocked up on my guilty pleasure – Mr Kipling Cherry Bakewells. I’ve gone through a few boxes.

“I also went to Homebase and there wasn’t much left on the shelves. I’ve just bought a house so I’ve got time to renovate it at the moment.

“I must be one of few in the sporting world that’s happy to be confined inside because of that. I’m getting a lot of jobs done.

“I was busy painting when I had a call from BBC Points West asking for an interview about the Games. I had no idea they had been cancelled.”

The 29-year-old finished 14th in Rio four years ago, and admitted he contemplated retiring after Tokyo 2020.

But the competition’s delay has given him a change of heart.

“I’ve won the World and European Championships, World Cups and Juniors. I feel like I’ve achieved everything other than the only one medal I’d really like – an Olympic one.

“Recently though I’ve found a new level of performance that I didn’t think I had. I’m getting better in all the disciplines. I’m now thinking that I don’t want to retire because I love my life now.”

Jamie Cooke won the world and European modern pentathlon title and is one of Britain's top contenders for the 2020 Olympics, which will now be staged one year later during to the COVID-19 pandemic

While Cooke is fitting in a run a day to work off those Bakewells, world number one pentathlete Joe Choong has improvised to keep on top of his game.

Choong said: “There’s a little hut with steps leading up to it in the communal garden for our flats, we’re using it as somewhere to put shooting targets so we can use the laser pistols.

“My flatmate Sam Curry and I are both pentathletes, the neighbours have been really supportive and don’t mind us practising.”

Choong claimed a bronze in February’s Budapest Indoor competition, his fourth successive podium placing which included a gold in last July’s World Cup Final to seal his place in Tokyo.

“I was in such a strong position,” he said. “I was feeling really confident, now I have to hold on to that level of performance for another year. It might work out better to help me continue improving.

“I’m 24 so it’s not like I’m at the end of my career.”

Joe Choong is now reevaluating his targets after the postponement of the 2020 Olympics

Bath-based Choong came 10th at Rio in his first taste of the summer Olympics.

He said: “I still remember that first fencing hit in the opening event. It meant I could finally say I was an Olympian. It was a fantastic feeling. At the village I couldn’t wait for competitions to start.

“There will probably be more pressure on me in Tokyo because of my 2019 season but I don’t think it’ll affect my performance or how I approach the competition.”

There is a strong tradition of British women taking Olympic medals in modern pentathlon, Katie French hopes to be the next on the list in Tokyo

Kate French has also enjoyed a flurry of successes recently, finishing second and third respectively in the European and World Championships last year.

The 29-year-old has collected three World Cup wins in the last three seasons and is currently taking a backseat from strenuous exercise.

French said: “I’m just trying to maintain a certain level of fitness right now. I’m still doing some gym stuff at home and bits of yoga.

“We’ve been given a circuit we can do, core and strength work. There are also so many classes online.”

Gravesend-born French admitted the delay of the Games was a relief.

“I think it would have been really stressful for athletes to try and train and be at their peak for this summer.” she said.

“It’s weird having a break but it’s now about getting our heads around this happening next year.”

French finished fifth in Rio and on top of recent performances, is confident she could challenge in 2021.

“Rio was so much better than I expected it to be. It made me more motivated to get to Tokyo and improve further.

“I feel like I’ve proved I can be a medal contender.”

Pictures: Phil Sutton/PentathlonGB