Joe Choong is set to quit modern pentathlon after defending his Olympic title next year, expecting to be part of a widespread exodus amid a controversial change being pushed through.
A decision by the International Modern Pentathlon Union to replace show jumping with obstacle course racing was endorsed by national federations but caused dismay among athletes, including Choong.
The new structure of the sport – also comprising fencing, swimming and a combined running and shooting event – is awaiting the International Olympic Committee’s approval for inclusion at the 2028 Games.
But Choong, alarmed at how the switch has been handled by the sport’s governing body, is resigned for his swansong to be at Paris 2024 – and the 28-year-old suspects he will not be alone in walking away.
He told the PA news agency: “Paris will be a great way to round off my career because I expect it will be the last time I compete in pentathlon. I think there will be a mass walkout from the sport.
“We’re not just talking about people my age who are in their mid-to-late 20s, but 21 or 22-year-olds will suddenly see this chance to go to an Olympics as their last chance before they decide to retire.
“I think that’s the feeling amongst the community and it will be hard to see where the sport goes, what the next top athlete looks like with obstacle course racing in the picture.
“The athletes’ voice as a whole was pretty much completely ignored. The politics pushed through whatever they wanted. After Paris, we’ll see what happens but I don’t think I’ll be taking part in it.”
Modern pentathlon’s image was rocked two years ago when a German coach was witnessed punching a horse that refused to jump a fence at the Tokyo Games, prompting the removal of equestrianism by the UIPM.
Show jumping remains one of the events for Paris 2024 but modern pentathlon faces a battle to be included at the 2028 Games in Los Angeles, with the UIPM admitting the sport needs to modernise.
Choong, who in Tokyo became the first British male to win individual Olympic gold in the modern pentathlon, accepted some rules could be modified so the sport becomes a “bit snappier”.
But such is his opposition to the proposed changes, Choong has thought about swapping lanes.
He said: “I would definitely want to stay competitive at something. Fencing is something I’ve dipped my toes in slightly over the last two years.
Olympic champ ✅Olympic record holder ✅World champ ✅
— The Olympic Games (@Olympics) April 25, 2023
“That’s partly been an effort to improve my fencing for pentathlon but at the same time, it’s like that addictive nature where I’m back to being one of the chasers, I’m not at the top of the sport anymore.
“It sounds weird but I absolutely loved coming 64th or something at one of my first competitions.
“I’ll definitely be going back to that and seeing if I can push the boundaries, slightly, on fencing or maybe one of the other sports in pentathlon and see how far I can push one of those sports compared to what’s expected of a normal pentathlete.”
Choong’s more immediate focus is on next month’s European Games in Krakow, where he could complete his gold medals haul after adding to his Olympic success by triumphing at last year’s World Championships.
Choong admitted fulfilling a life goal in Tokyo meant he struggled to adjust afterwards but the prospect of competing at a third Olympics next year is sharpening his focus.
He added: “You see people like Adam Peaty and Max Whitlock, they talk about having that hunger for the sport and sometimes it’s not quite there.
“I took a lot of time out after the Tokyo Games because you need a reset. To then go on and win the World Championships off the back of a slightly disjointed year almost compounded that feeling of ‘what’s next?’ and finding the why.
“Having had a couple of years to refocus, I’m very hungry to go and do it all again.”