21 May, 2014

On a really "modern" pentathlon

The readers of this blog have certainly noticed that I am particularly fond of combined events. It was thus natural to feel some attraction to what is called the Modern Pentathlon. However upon analysing the situation I soon reached the conclusion that the moniker “modern” is totally unwarranted: the modern pentathlon as we know it is something based on the military skills of the 19th (!) century. The fact that modern pentathlon is, at least to my eyes, a total miss (despite its Olympic status) leads naturally to the question: what would have been the right choice? 

Below I shall try to give my ideas on the matter. 

I do not have an objection to a combined event based on military skills. In fact the existing military pentathlon could offer a nice basis for building a civil one. The events of the military pentathlon are: target shooting, grenade throwing, obstacle swimming, obstacle course, cross. It's a really fine event (I know this from first-hand experience) and a perfect starting point for what I would like to propose. However it is necessary to de-militarise it slightly.

There are two precision events, target shooting and grenade throwing, something that is superfluous for a civil pentathlon. So, the idea would be to drop target shooting. After all it would be reminiscent of the existing “modern” pentathlon. It could be replaced by one more locomotion event, for instance in the form of cycling over a not perfectly flat terrain: mountain bikes is what I have in mind. Grenade throwing should also be replaced by something less military.

So my really modern pentathlon would consist in the following five events: obstacle course, obstacle swimming, cross, precision throwing and bike cross. All these disciplines do not require the special skills of the current modern pentathlon, like horse-riding or even fencing. Their techniques can be easily learned (and then one could take years to hone them to perfection). 



The current military pentathlon obstacle course is the perfect one to my eyes. Moreover it has one great advantage: one can, in a pinch, use existing military installations. For obstacle swimming I still prefer the military course over the life-saving one: there is more variety in the obstacles and speed is not the only important factor. 



The only event to specify further is the precision throwing event. I am in favour of such an event also because it does not require special equipment. The throwing implement I have in mind is a steel ball like the ones used in the french p├ętanque. They have a weight between 650 and 800 g. A weight of 700 g is comparable to a competition javelin weight and would be perfectly adequate. For the military precision throwing the throwing range is organised in the form of a sector with target circles. 



It is not clear which features of this setup should be kept in a civil modern pentathlon. In fact the military grenade throwing  has two parts: precision and distance. Should we add also a distance throwing to the precision event? I do not have clear ideas on this point.

In any case a civil pentathlon built upon the present military one would be a great event, far better than the current modern pentathlon or the absurdity that is known under the name of triathlon. (Do not get me wrong. I have a great respect for something like the Ironman. I could even understand a combined event based solely upon locomotion. What irks me is the fact that there is no break between swimming, cycling and running: changing clothes and shoes is made part of the competition itself. This is what I deem absurd).

01 May, 2014

Criteria for Sports Classification

In this post (and probably in the one that will follow) I will stray from the main topic of this blog, namely Athletics, and present some ideas of a somewhat broader scope. The present post has to do with the way we perceive sports and provides some, admittedly personal, ideas that would in principle help to understand and classify sports. 

It goes without saying that the term "sport" has to be defined first. The way I understand it, Sport is an organised physical activity, based on ability and skill, and which often has a competitive nature. I propose the following 7 criteria that would lead to a possible classification of sports. 

Team vs Individual
Quantitative vs Qualitative
Absolute vs Relative
Automatic vs Judgement
External vs Human
Physiology vs Precision
Competition vs Recreation

Here is what I mean by each of these criteria:

Team vs Individual
Sports where the final "team" result is obtained by addition or combination of the results of individuals are definitely individual sports. Relays and synchronised diving are such sports. Most ball sports are team sports but I would qualify baseball and cricket as sports with a large individual component. What about sports where we have a couple? I would classify such sports as individual. Synchronised swimming is a team sport for teams of 8 but an individual one for teams of two. A rule-of-thumb would be: one and two are individual while three or more are team but the first sentence is an absolute rule.

Quantitative vs Qualitative
A quantitative sport is one where the result is some measurable quantity. Typically we can have a time, a length or a mass but also a score (e.g. number of goals) or even the notes attributed by (human) judges. Climbing a mountain is typically a qualitative achievement, which can be of great value but still qualitative. Other such examples are circumnavigating the world on a sailboat, a difficult cave diving (I am choosing here, on purpose, examples which correspond to exceptional achievements).

Absolute vs Relative
A relative sport is one where the outcome depends on the opponent. A boxing match is definitely a relative sport. Some sports with judges' notation (like figure skating) have a small relative component, in the sense that the judges adjust their marks slightly depending on the participants. In running events the final result may be somewhat influenced by the presence of all the participants but still running is an absolute sport.

Automatic vs Judgement
Automatic refers here to how the result is obtained, i.e. if it is given by some measurement that is automatic (or that could be automatised). In some sports, like diving, the notes are obtained by the judgement of expert judges. Even if one could think of some expert system, which would attribute the notes in this case, any artificial intelligence treatment looks inefficient for sports like competition dancing which have a strong artistic component. 

External vs Human
The distinction here is on who is furnishing the primal effort. Most sports would be judged as human in the sense that the athlete is the one providing the energy. Car racing is the typical "external" sport. Horse riding has a very strong external component (this does not mean that the rider is not making a considerable effort). In this sense target shooting is an external sport while darts is human. 

Physiology vs Precision
Here we are making the distinction based on what counts more. Running is clearly a sport where physiology is the main factor of success. In a sport like bowling the physiological factor is secondary: precision is what conditions the outcome. A strong physiological factor may be present is some precision sports, like archery, but still the later will be classified as a precision discipline.

Competition vs Recreation
Here in most cases we have a question of attitude rather than an inherent property of the sport: in most cases a discipline can be practised both as a recreation and as a competition sport. However some sports can only be recreational ones. Underwater diving in open water is such an example. "Recreation" does not mean easy: swimming the Channel can be done without any competition spirit but it is still very hard.

Liponski's World Sports Encyclopedia is listing, literally, thousands of sports.



A good application of the ideas presented here would be to take the encyclopedia's list of sports and try to classify each following the criteria above.