The verdicts on the performances of Australia’s shooters at the Rio Olympics had already been written, but then Chloe Esposito chipped in with a stunning postscript.
The 24-year-old Sydneysider became Australia’s first Modern Pentathlon medallist on the closing weekend, storming home to grab gold and beaming with an impish grin as she stood on the winners’ podium.
Shooting is one of the disciplines involved in the challenging rigours that constitute the Modern Pentathlon. Esposito came out on top in the Olympic sport that comprises five different events: fencing, 200m freestyle swimming, show jumping and a final combined event of laser pistol shooting and a 3200m cross-country run.
The SSAA is not an advocate of the laser pistols which are involved in the sport but even so warmly applauds Esposito’s feat. The sport’s multi-faceted make-up is based on the trials that a retreating 19th century cavalry soldier would have to endure on any simulated break-out from behind enemy lines. That means riding an unfamiliar horse, fighting foes with pistol and sword, swimming and lastly running to return to his own ranks.
Esposito’s gold medal performance was made all the more remarkable in the light of the sacrifices she made to become a genuine contender for the top prize. The sport receives scant financial backing in Australia, which forced Esposito to relocate her build-up campaign to Budapest two years ago. Her program was designed to concentrate on her fencing and enjoy more intense competition, leaving her fiance and her mum back home.
Esposito’s fencing did indeed improve dramatically in the wake of her finish in the London Olympics, where she ended up seventh overall.
“I was over the moon with my fencing,” she said.
Even so, Esposito had endured a tortuous year, missing competitions and training with an Achilles injury.
Despite this her road to glory began with a 13th in the Rio fencing, before she turned in a devastating 200m swim to win her heat. She landed an extra point in the fencing bonus round and completed a solid equestrian lap when many of her rivals fell away. All those involved in this section have to ride a horse that they have never been acquainted with before.
For the concluding combined event of laser pistol shooting and cross-country running, competitors are ranked according to their score from the first three disciplines and given start times accordingly, with the leader going first, and other starting times being based on the number of points already scored. From there, Esposito opened the combined running and shooting round in seventh place, with a 45-second handicap behind Polish leader Oktawia Nowacka. She instantly leapt into sixth spot and started going past runners one at a time before easing away from Nowacka on the closing shooting leg.
Her final combined time of 12 minutes, 10.19 seconds took her points total to an Olympic record of 1372 and the gold. Elodie Clouvel, of France, won silver with 1356 points, and bronze went to Nowacka, with 1349.
“I heard that they had left the shooting range and I looked back and I saw that it was quite a big distance,” Esposito told reporters. “And I know I can run and I knew they wouldn’t catch me in the last lap.”
Her father Daniel Esposito represented Australia in the pentathlon in 1984 and Chloe said she owed her achievement to his coaching, which he conceded was very demanding.
“That’s how we train in Australia. Other athletes when they see it, they think it’s a bit over the top, but really it’s not,” Daniel said.
The happy dad said it was a case of intertwining his role as a coach and a parent but the wondrous outcome meant everything had been worthwhile. For Australian shooting Chloe’s victory was a welcome surprise as the curtain closed on the Rio Games.
To add spice to the story, Chloe’s brother Max Esposito competed as the youngest man in the Modern Pentathlon and finished just six seconds away from a bronze medal.
The 19-year-old started the final combined shooting and running round in 17th place, with a 45-second handicap on the eventual winner Alexander Lesun, of Russia.
Max, who finished seventh, made up 10 places to finish 17 seconds behind Lesun and just six seconds behind Mexican bronze medallist Ismael Hernandez Uscanga. The Ukraine’s Pavlo Tymoschenko was second.