Modern love: Pentathlon couple balances training, military

Amro Elgeziry, Isabella Isaksen
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He’s a unit supply specialist in the U.S. Army. She’s a multiple launch rocket systems crew member.

Together, soldier-athletes Amro Elgeziry and Isabella Isaksen are a married Olympic modern pentathlon couple trying to navigate their way through the challenges of training for the Tokyo Games during the coronavirus pandemic.

Their sport consists of five disciplines, two of which they can’t practice at the moment — equestrian horse jumping (their stable recently closed) and swimming (pools remain shut).

For the rest, they improvise. They hone their fencing footwork in their Colorado Springs, Colorado, backyard, shoot laser pistols at a target in a nearby park (yes, they sometimes draw stares) and take to the trails for morning runs.

They met through modern pentathlon. They train together for modern pentathlon.

Their first date?

“Wasn’t a modern-pentathlon date,” said Elgeziry, who married Isaksen on May 30, 2014.

“Ice cream,” Isaksen responded. “We’re both fans of ice cream.”

Elgeziry is already qualified for his fourth Olympics — with the Tokyo Games in 2021 set to be his first as a member of Team USA (he became a citizen in 2017). The 33-year-old was born in Cairo and competed at the last three Olympics for Egypt.

The 26-year-old Isaksen is attempting to secure her spot through world rankings or at the world championships in Minsk, Belarus, in June 2021.

It was certainly a family affair at the Rio Games. They both made it, along with their siblings. Isaksen’s older sister, Margaux, qualified for her third Olympics. Elgeziry’s brother, Omar, who now serves as their coach, also made the Egyptian squad.

After Rio, Elgeziry and Isaksen were each unsure about how much longer they wanted to remain in the sport. It was a financial challenge, illustrated by Isaksen working at Dick’s Sporting Goods until two weeks before the Rio Games began.

“But we both decided we still have a lot to accomplish in the sport,” Isaksen said.

They joined the Army months apart in 2017. Both were selected to be members of the World Class Athlete Program, which allows top-ranked soldier-athletes to perform at the international level while also serving their nation in the military.

Isaksen is a sergeant and a member of 13 Mike, which supports infantry and tank units by supplementing cannon artillery during combat.

Elgeziry also is a sergeant and a member of 92 Yankee, whose duties involve general upkeep of all Army equipment.

They’re stationed out of Fort Carson and before the outbreak of COVID-19 split their time between training at the base — along with performing their military tasks — and the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Training Center.

“Even if we’re training less on the sports side, we’ve got to stay ready on the Army side of things,” said Isaksen, who grew up in Fayetteville, Arkansas, as a runner before she followed her sister into modern pentathlon. “But with five sports to train for, we’re kind of used to it.”

On most days, they begin the morning with a distance run along the neighboring trails.

After that, the routine really does vary. There’s a lot of training ground to cover since modern pentathlon competitions consist of fencing, freestyle swimming (200m), equestrian show jumping, and a final event combining laser-pistol shooting and cross-country running (four 800m laps with five shots after each lap).

They have their fencing equipment at home so they head into their backyard to work on technique — over and over.

“It gets boring,” joked Elgeziry, who was a swimmer growing up before being lured into the sport by an older brother, Emad, who competed at the 2000 Games.

Sometimes, they practice laser-pistol shooting in their backyard. Other times, they head to a local park, where the couple can more closely simulate race conditions. They set up a stand to hold their laser pistols and position a target about 10 meters away. They’ll run a loop before returning to shoot at the target.

Their drills used to draw stares but, “the people in the park are used to us now,” Isaksen said.

Staying in swimming shape with no pools open has proven to be an obstacle. They go through dry-land workouts made up of core and strength exercises using a medicine ball and bands.

As for equestrian practice, they were riding at their coach’s stable until recently when it was shut down to comply with local ordinances.

“We’re just trying to make do,” Isaksen said.

“But it’s tough,” Elgeziry added.

They’ve added another event to their crowded plate — baking. The house specialties are sourdough bread and a pasta dish with broccoli.

“We do love to cook,” Elgeziry said.

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MORE: Which U.S. athletes are qualified for Tokyo Olympics in 2021?

Kendall Gretsch wins six gold medals at Para Nordic Ski Worlds

Kendall Gretsch
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Kendall Gretsch, who won Paralympic titles at the last Summer and Winter Games, added another six gold medals at the World Para Nordic Skiing Championships in Sweden last week.

Gretsch, 30, earned seven total medals in seven days between biathlon and cross-country skiing.

Gretsch won gold medals in three different sports across the last three Paralympics: biathlon and cross-country skiing in 2018 (two years after taking up the sports), triathlon in 2021 and biathlon in 2022.

She plans to shift her focus back to triathlon after this winter for 2024 Paris Games qualification.

Gretsch, born with spina bifida, was the 2014 USA Triathlon Female Para Triathlete of the Year. Though triathlon was added to the Paralympics for the 2016 Rio Games, her classification was not added until Tokyo.

Also at last week’s worlds, six-time Paralympian Aaron Pike earned his first Paralympic or world championships gold medal in his decade-plus career, winning a 12.5km biathlon event.

Oksana Masters, who won seven medals in seven events at last year’s Paralympics to break the career U.S. Winter Paralympics medals record, missed worlds due to hand surgery.

The U.S. also picked up five medals at last week’s World Para Alpine Skiing Championships in Spain — three silvers for five-time Paralympian Laurie Stephens and two bronzes for 17-year-old Saylor O’Brien.

Stephens now has 18 career medals from world championships, plus seven at the Paralympics.

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World champion skier Kyle Smaine dies in avalanche at age 31

Kyle Smaine
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Kyle Smaine, a retired world champion halfpipe skier, died in an avalanche in Japan on Sunday, according to NBC News, citing Smaine’s father. He was 31.

Smaine, a 2015 World champion in ski halfpipe, had been doing ski filming in Japan, sharing videos on his Instagram account over the past week.

The native of South Lake Tahoe, California, finished ninth in ski halfpipe at the 2016 Winter X Games in Aspen, Colorado.

In 2018, Smaine won the fifth and final U.S. Olympic qualifying series event in ski halfpipe but did not make the four-man team for PyeongChang. His last sanctioned international competition was in February 2018.

Late Sunday, two-time Olympic champion David Wise won the X Games men’s ski halfpipe and dedicated it to Smaine.

“We all did this for Kyle tonight,” Wise said on the broadcast. “It’s a little bit of an emotional day for us. We lost a friend.”