This article was produced by SportBusiness International working in association with UIPM, the modern pentathlon world governing body
BY ANY STANDARDS, Lena Schöneborn is an exceptional athlete.
In addition to winning the gold medal in the individual modern pentathlon at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, she also claimed individual golds at the UIPM World Championship in Berlin last year and the 2011 European Championships.
At this year’s World Championships in Moscow, the current No.1-ranked female modern pentathlete added a relay gold to her haul, and Schöneborn is now looking ahead to the Rio Olympic Games with the quiet confidence that comes with having enjoyed a good season.
“I was at the World Cup in Rio in March which was a test event using Olympic facilities and I am looking forward to being back there for the Games themselves,” she said during a rare break from training.
“The World Championships in Moscow were also a great experience. The local organiser put on a great show.”
As a youngster, Schöneborn was involved in a range of sports, including tennis and track and field, and her speciality was swimming. But the closure of her local pool meant she had to find an alternative venue where she began to train with pentathletes.
“They had a great coach and were a cool team to train with,” said the 30-year-old, who lives in Berlin and combines her life as a pentathlete with a job in a marketing agency.
“I guess I was around 14 when I began to focus on modern pentathlon. Swimming gave me a good start, I was quite good at fencing and, like most young girls, and I liked horses.
But I really didn’t know the difference between a pistol any other type of gun so, as you can image, the other disciples took a time to develop.”
The dedication and hard work certainly paid off and she described her moment on the podium at the Beijing 2008 medal ceremony as her proudest and most memorable.
“The Games were a great experience and it was good to have competed and cool to have won,” she said. “But as I stood in front of 40,000 people at the ceremony and heard the national anthem playing I started to realise what it meant… wow!”
I am so glad to be a pentathlete because it makes you part of a really big international family. Although we are all competitors, we are also friends.
In an Olympic year, a pentathlete’s training involves attending overseas camps whilst participating in major UIPM events and training in a sport that involves five disciplines is something of an art in itself.
“You have to take a decision on whether to focus on weaknesses or build on strengths. The issue is to train to maximise scores so it may be that a smaller improvement in, for example, swimming, will get you more points than a bigger improvement in another discipline,” she said.
“Like other parts of life, training can be fun one day while the next you just want to get it over with. It’s always good to have good people around you in that respect. But all the hard work is worth it.
“I am so glad to be a pentathlete because it makes you part of a really big international family. Although we are all competitors, we are also friends.”
In a sport that has changed greatly over the years, Schöneborn has flourished, although she said that it does sometimes take the athletes some time to get used to changes.
“It is great when we have changes such as the introduction of the combined run and shoot as it makes the sport easier to follow and more exciting for spectators. It is an opportunity to showcase the sport,” she added.
“Modern pentathlon is a cool and emotional sport and it is great that we now have our online TV channel so that more and more people have a chance to experience it.
“I am sure the sport can grow and sometimes that depends on the nationality of winners at the Olympics. I know that modern pentathlon became more popular in Germany after my gold medal in 2008.”
To continue reading the Modern pentathlon focus, please click the links below:
Thoroughly modern – An introduction to modern pentathlon
Event overview – Key issues around the World Championships
Focusing on the future – Modern pentathlon's digital ecosystem