British pentathlete Joe Choong aims to ‘break the curse’ for glory at Tokyo
Joe Choong hopes to “break the curse” by becoming the first British man to win an individual Olympic medal in modern pentathlon next year.
The 24-year-old took his first opportunity to secure one of two places for male pentathletes in the British team in Tokyo by winning the World Cup Final in the Japanese capital in June.
Modern pentathlon – which comprises fencing, swimming, show jumping, running and shooting – has been part of the Olympic programme for men since 1912 but Britain’s only medals have come in the discontinued team event.
By contrast, British women have won five medals since the sport was added in 2000, with Rio three years ago the first time there was no British representation on the podium.
“I’ve always seen this growing up,” Londoner Choong told PA. “When I was a youth following the London and Beijing Olympics, I was just looking at the men thinking, ‘Why are they not shooting quicker?’, or whatever.
“I’ve always been really confident and I’d absolutely love to be able to go and break the curse, so to speak.”
Choong currently sits second in the world rankings having also picked up two silver medals at World Cups this season while his team-mate Jamie Cooke, the reigning world champion, is one place behind him.
All of which has altered the gender dynamics in the British team, with the women no longer able to claim the upper hand.
“They used to but in recent years the boys have been winning more medals than the girls so they can’t really mention it any more,” said Choong. “We have some bragging rights now, if not yet at the Olympics.”
Choong will be heading to his second Olympics having finished a hugely creditable 10th on his debut in Rio as a 20-year-old.
But, having gone into the final event – the laser-run – in second place, the memories are bittersweet.
“My memories of Rio are it was one of the best weeks of my life but in the end nerves got the better of me, I didn’t shoot that well,” he said.
“So, while I did really enjoy it, ever since then it’s been, ‘I want to redeem myself and get a medal at the next Olympics’, what I think I should have been able to do at the first one.
“That’s my thoughts going into Tokyo, that I’m going to prove to myself that I am good enough for an Olympic medal. It’s definitely something I use to motivate myself through tough sessions.”
Choong will be one of the big favourites for another title on home soil in Bath next week when he heads the British team at the European Championships.
Cooke and 2018 European silver medallist Kate French will look to secure two of the 16 Olympic qualifying places up for grabs while Tom Toolis, Sam Curry, Jess Varley, Jo Muir and Francesca Summers make up the team for the individual events.
The pressure is off for Choong, but he will not be resting on his laurels.
“I’m second in the world, so that’s really nice to see, but pentathlon’s a really tough sport to be consistent in so I could win every competition up to the Olympics and it’s still not guaranteed that I’ll win there,” he said.
“I just need to keep working and put as much distance between me and my competitors as I can.”