Isabella Isaksen

Amro Elgeziry, Isabella Isaksen
AP

Modern love: Pentathlon couple balances training, military

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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?

U.S. modern pentathlon in Rio will be Isaksen sister act

Margaux Isaksen
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Margaux Isaksen says Rio may be her final Olympics, but she hopes it’s the first of many for Isabella Isaksen.

The U.S. women’s modern pentathlon team of two is a sister act. Margaux, 24, goes to her third Games (she debuted at age 16 in Beijing). Isabella, 22, made her first Olympics, but she had to wait three weeks after the final qualifying event in May before it became official this month.

Margaux’s voice cracked in a phone interview when asked which Isaksen Olympic berth meant more.

“I’m definitely happier for her,” she said.

And Margaux desperately wanted one more Olympic shot, after finishing fourth at the 2012 London Games.

The difference between her and bronze medalist Yane Marques of Brazil was eight points — 5,340 to 5,332 after 10 hours of competition across fencing, swimming, show jumping, running and shooting.

She would have retired after the London Games if she made the podium. Margaux missed a medal by one touch in fencing, one rail in horse riding or less than two seconds in the combined running and shooting event.

“It’s actually, obviously, something I’ve thought about quite a lot,” she said. “Especially the year after the Olympics, but even to this day.”

She felt she owed it to her coaches and support circle to try for Rio (though she refused to use the #RoadtoRio hashtag until she officially qualified). Regardless of what happens in Rio, Margaux plans to take at least the next two years to focus on other ventures. Philanthropy on a local level in her native Arkansas, notably.

“Retirement’s on the back of my mind,” she said. “I never know if I’m going to want to continue to do this. That was something I’ve always said, when I first started this sport, when I don’t love it anymore, I won’t do it anymore.”

Her body might have a say, too.

Margaux’s performance in London was incredible, not only because it was the best Olympic modern pentathlon finish by an American since 2000, but also because she had been sidelined nearly six months by a severe case of mono. Margaux restarted her training about six weeks before the Games.

This year, she seriously sprained her left ankle in February and has tried to train and compete through it, only to twist and roll it a few more times. Then she found out last week the she suffered a small stress fracture in her leg.

“Hopefully, in three weeks, I’ll be able to run again,” Margaux said last week from Colorado Springs, home to many elite athletes who live at the U.S. Olympic Training Center. “My body, quite frankly, has never been as strong as it was before I got sick [in 2012].”

It showed at the World Championships in May. Margaux failed to qualify for the 36-woman final for the first time in a senior career that began at age 16 in 2008.

“I’ve had probably, no, not probably, I’ve definitely had the worst season of my life,” she said. “I honestly have taken all of the pressure off of myself at this point, because I honestly have no idea what to expect in Rio.”

Little sister Isabella can’t have that great of an idea of what to plan for, either. She attended neither the 2008 Beijing Games (costs) nor the 2012 London Games (stayed home to train for the World Junior Championships).

The sisters were together at the Senior World Championships on May 27, as spectators. They watched the final for which they failed to qualify. By then, Margaux knew she was going to Rio. Isabella wasn’t 100 percent sure, with a few close rivals in rankings also competing.

“Thankfully, I mean this sounds horrible, they kind of messed up, which allowed me to stay high enough on points,” Isabella said.

Isabella started modern pentathlon between the Beijing and London Olympics. One year after Margaux’s mono, she got it, too. It affected her for two years, during which she married Egyptian modern pentathlete Amro El Geziry, and she said she’s just now feeling fully healthy again.

Her struggles are now more mental than physical.

“I had at least one point of every competition [in this Olympic cycle] where I thought, am I good enough?” Isabella said. “I psyched myself out [at Worlds in May]. I stressed myself out too much, thinking like I have to perform every event really well so I can qualify [for the Olympics].”

Now that both Isaksens have qualified, they can enjoy the Games together.

In 2012, Isabella cried as she watched on a computer stream as Margaux finished fourth. After the ducts dried, she went back to training in Colorado. The next month, the sisters shared team event and relay gold medals at the World Junior Championships in Poland; Margaux won individual gold.

Margaux, while unsure of her prospects at her third Olympics, predicted the Rio Games will “be the first of many Olympic Games and many successes” on the senior level for Isabella.

“I just get a little emotional when I think about it,” she said. “I want it even more for her than I want it for myself.”

MORE: U.S. athletes qualified for Rio Olympics