This time last year, the United States had won the silver medal in the Olympic modern pentathlon team competition and finally seemed to draw at least a bit of interest in the relatively obscure sport that includes equestrian, fencing, pistol shooting, swimming and cross-country running.
But just when it seemed the modern pentathlon was rising in popularity in this country, the U.S. Army shot it down.
Because of a staggering array of controversies over the last 10 years, the Army decided last January it will no longer support the training of athletes. Since 1954, the Army had provided the only modern pentathlon training center in the United States at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas, and its personnel also helped run the sport and raise the necessary funds.
The Army's ties with the modern pentathlon date back to 1912, when a young lieutenant named George S. Patton, Jr. was the first U.S. Olympian.
Apparently, though, the Army finally tired of dealing with the problems and negative publicity generated by the modern pentathlon's scandals, which ranged from alleged drug use by competitors to alleged profiteering from the sale of gift horses, to alleged cheating in fencing. The fencing case, which arose during last year's Olympic Trials at Fort Sam Houston, led to an unprecedented use of lie-detector testing administered to its athletes.
No official reason was given for the Army's withdrawal of support, but sources close to the sport say it was directly related to the controversies. Simply put, the Army could no longer justify spending $250,000 a year, plus the use of Fort Sam Houston and its personnel, for a sport that wasn't portraying a positive image.
This wasn't the first time the Army considered eliminating the training center and ending its financial support. In 1980, at the height of the FBI and Army Criminal Investigation Division (CID) investigations into the drug use and horse laundering, the Army seriously considered pulling out, but decided to wait until after the 1984 Olympics before reviewing the situation again.
When the matter was brought up again last January, the Army went ahead with its plans and gave the United States Modern Pentathlon Assn. (USMPA) until September to make other arrangements to train its athletes. Since then, though, a compromise has been reached. The Army will lease the facilities at Fort Sam Houston to the USMPA. Still, athletes will no longer be housed at the Army base and no Army personnel will be assigned to oversee the training.
A spokesman for the modern pentathlon said the association is surviving thanks to the surplus of money from last summer's Olympics, the United States Olympic Committee's yearly budget and funds from a Southern California group that has expressed interest in building a training center at Coto de Caza in Orange County, site of last summer's Olympic modern pentathlon competition.
Meanwhile, the three members of last summer's U.S. Olympic team no longer compete. Mike Storm has moved from San Antonio to Dallas and is a businessman. Greg Losey still lives and works in San Antonio. And Dean Glenesk is attending the University of Texas at Austin. Rob Stull, the center of the fencing controversy last summer and an alternate on the Olympic team, is still competing and still one of the top four Americans in the event.
Oh yes, a modern pentathlon story would not be complete without a controversy. Sources said discrepancies have arisen in the voting for a new president of the USMPA. Dan Steinman, the incumbent, was named the winner, but others have suggested either a recount or a new election.