Microkhan by Brendan I. Koerner

Kids Do Love Lasers

September 15th, 2009 · 8 Comments

Modern pentathlon is by far our favorite Summer Olympics sport, topping even our beloved hammer throw. There’s just something inestimably cool about an event that’s modeled after a 19th-century military mission. Plus you have to dig the fact that the fifth place finisher at the 1912 games was a 28-year-old U.S. Army lieutenant named George S. Patton. (How he got beat out by four Swedes, we’ll never understand.)

But recent years have been rough on modern pentathlon—it’s just not the draw that it once was, and it’s status as Olympic event is seemingly in peril. The sport’s tsars have done plenty to tweak the format as of late, smooshing all five events into a single day, and combining running and shooting into a biathlon-like whole. But still the young’uns are resisting the pentathlon’s charms. So what’s next? Think space carnage:

The world governing body, Union International de Pentathlon Moderne (UIPM), have commissioned a series of trials that will see lasers replace bullets on the shooting range.

They are hoping the move could appeal to a younger generation of fans and will also help circumnavigate problems with gun laws, especially ahead of the London 2012 Olympics.

We only see this working if those lasers are directed at fellow competitors, rather than at distant targets. After all, who among us doesn’t enjoy a good game of laser tag?

In all seriousness, we’re conflicted about this proposed change. We do love lasers, and we’d hate for modern pentathlon to disappear from the Olympic map. But we’ve got a purist streak, too, and we have to ask—at what point do these ratings-centric alterations taint the soul of the sport?

(Laser-cannon image via Classic Johnny Quest; it’s apparently a screenshot from the “Mystery of the Lizard Men” episode)


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8 Comments so far ↓

  • Jordan

    I would think that the course would also have to be made more difficult to account for the fact that lasers require less compensation for factors like wind speed and the parabolic path of bullets. Lot easier to hit with something that moves in a straight line by definition.

    Though the air pollution in Beijing might have been enough to present a challenge.

  • Brian Moore

    Wow, The Venture Brothers certainly did a good job parodying that lizard man outfit.

    While I agree that laser guns might take a great deal of the challenge out of the shooting competition, for the same reasons Jordan mentions, there have already been some technological upgrades to the pentathlon — in the 1 touch epee bout. Previously you had to have judges simply see the touch, but now there are electrical systems which complete a circuit when you depress the tiny spring at the tip by the correct pressure. It’s a huge improvement over having to visually track the point of the weapon, especially for the other 2 fencing weapons, which not not rely on who hit who, but the order that it happened.

  • Brendan I. Koerner

    My hunch is that any shift to lasers will include a change in the targets. Perhaps they’ll change to moving targets? There were actually a bunch of moving-target shooting events in the early years of the Olympics, but they somehow got lost in the shuffle.

    BTW, wasn’t the electric fencing system part of a James Bond plot? The Google says I’m thinking of “Die Another Day,” but I could’ve sworn the sport figured in an earlier flick, too.

  • Gramsci

    TM: So Timmy, would you like to learn how to run, swim, ride a horse, shoot a pistol, and wield an epee, all without the prospect of a college scholarship you might earn specializing in one of the above?

    Timmy: Well, I don’t know Mr. McClure…
    TM (whispering): You know the pistol? It shoots lasers…

  • Gramsci

    sorry, Timmy was supposed to spit-take.

  • Brendan I. Koerner

    No way I can let a Troy McClure reference pass without linking to the Planet of the Apes musical:


  • p m

    someone already applied the “laser tag” model to the biathlon:


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