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?

Qualified athletes go into limbo with Tokyo postponement

Mariel Zagunis
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For the 76 U.S. athletes who had already qualified for the 2020 Olympics, a new waiting game has begun, and many of them are talking through their mixed emotions on social media.

Shooter Kayle Browning‘s thoughts played out in real time. She gave a glimpse of her new routine on YouTube (after tending to her dog, who had to go out) but didn’t know whether she would keep her spot on the team. She learned afterwards that USA Shooting intends to keep its qualified athletes on the team despite the postponement.

Fellow shooter Phillip Jungman also went from sadness to relief: “When I saw the news that the Olympics was postponed, my heart dropped a little. A few hours later @usashooting put out an official statement backing all of their athletes that had earned Olympic berths. I just wanted to take this moment to thank them for supporting us all in this time of so much uncertainty.”

LIST: U.S. athletes qualified for 2020 Olympics

Other athletes were relieved that the uncertainty of knowing whether they would have time to train was no longer a problem.

Modern pentathlete Samantha Achterberg: “Lots of mixed emotions, but a sense of relief in some ways.”

Fencer Mariel Zagunis, who has qualified for her fifth Olympics, quipped that she’s throwing herself a “pity party” but was “glad a decision was made sooner rather than later.”

“Disappointed that I won’t be able to go out and fence in the Olympics in 2020, but I’m relieved that the IOC is putting global health first,” said fellow fencer Alexander Massialias.

Several athletes sounded as determined as ever.

“News of the postponement of the Olympic Games means its time to adjust the goggles and refocus,” said triathlete Summer Rappaport.

“Let’s roll,” said sailor Paige Railey. “One more year to become stronger and healthier!”

“I’ve waited my whole life for this moment,” said marathoner Molly Seidel. “To make the @olympics safer for everyone I’m willing to wait a bit longer.”

“If these past years have taught me anything it is that I am capable of going through hell and high water for the sake of achieving the Olympic Dream!” said taekwondo athlete Paige McPherson.

Sailor Charlie Buckingham spared a thought for Olympic organizers:

” I can’t help but think of Japan and what they’ve endured to host the games this summer, only to be faced with the current global situation. To have responded the way they did so quickly is impressive and knowing their culture, next summer’s show will be even better.”

The U.S. softball team is adding one year to a 12-year wait since the sport was last contested at the Olympics in 2008.

“(N)othing has changed as far as the mindset, the work ethic or the goal that we have as a team,” said Valerie Arioto.

Swimmer Ashley Twichell, who had locked down a spot on the open-water team, supported the decision but expressed disappointment and urged “everyone right now to acknowledge whatever feelings they’re having – anxious, sad, confused, lonely, scared, isolated, stressed, frustrated, just to name a few – and know that they are validated.”

But Twichell also drew inspiration looking ahead: “The Olympics can wait, and they’ll continue to be the beacon of hope that they’ve always been, perhaps now more than ever.”

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Olympic modern pentathlon champion to miss Tokyo Games due to pregnancy

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Chloe Esposito, the Australian who won the Rio Olympic modern pentathlon, will not defend her title in Tokyo because she is pregnant with her first child due in August.

“True to form, nothing ever works out the way we plan it,” was posted on Esposito’s social media. “Defending my title will have to wait another four years. Can’t wait to be a mum.”

Esposito, 28, is Australia’s lone Olympic medalist in modern pentathlon, which features four disciplines: fencing, show jumping, swimming and a combined running/shooting event.

She won with an Olympic record 1,372 points, rallying from fourth place going into the running-shooting finale. Her father and brother also competed in Olympic modern pentathlon.

Her victory in Rio was a surprise, given she was seventh at the London Olympics and eighth at the 2015 World Championships. Esposito took a year off after Rio and returned to win the 2018 World Cup Final, taking the world No. 1 ranking that year. She missed 2019 competition after a hamstring operation.

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MORE: Three-time Egyptian Olympian qualifies for U.S. Olympic team