Meet the Member: “The sport has had to evolve, but its DNA has always remained the same”
July 5, 2023
For this week’s interview we sat down with Yasser Hefny, Head of the Athletes Committee for Modern Pentathlon, to discuss his own journey to the Olympics as an athlete and the way the sport is evolving.
So Yasser, to kick us off please take us through your journey in sport?
I had a bit of an interesting journey into sport. I was always playing a lot of different sports growing up. Despite the fact we weren’t a sporty family, my parents were always keen on me doing a lot of different sports.
I didn’t know about Modern Pentathlon until one of my teachers at school introduced me to it. Despite it being five different sports rolled into one I really enjoyed it and had a fair amount of success straight away. I joined the national team and ended up competing at the Olympic Games in London in 2012.
I have really had some amazing experiences in sport, both as an athlete and as an administrator, I really can’t imagine doing anything else.
Do you think your experience as an athlete has helped you in your current administrative role?
I think it really has because it means the sport is in my heart, I care so much about it and I am not just saying this, I really do. I can also sympathise with and understand some of the problems that athletes face and the potential impact the changes we make to the sport will have on our athletes.
What makes the Modern Pentathlon event so special?
I think the variety of sports and disciplines involved in the event is what makes it so special. It also has a great link all the way back to the founder of the Modern Olympic Games, Pierre de Coubertin, who picked the five disciplines that make up the sport in order to find the most ‘complete’ athlete.
As an athlete it is brilliant because you get to practise so many different sports all the time, which for me was something I really enjoyed. I also think one of the strengths of Modern Pentathlon is that it is a mirror of real life in some ways because you can be struggling in one of the events but doing really well in another. You have to try and get all five on form at the same time which is a real challenge.
How has the event evolved over the years?
While we have always had to evolve to keep up with the changes in the world so that the sport keeps its appeal, the DNA of the sport has always remained the same. Originally, the competition took five days with an event on each day, now it is just 90 minutes per event. In 2009, we changed from pistol to laser shooting, we also then started including running and laser shooting together. The latest innovation is the introduction of the Obstacle discipline.
It is clear that Obstacle will provide a huge boost both to our sport and the Olympic Games. There’s over 20 million obstacle athletes worldwide, and these are the young people that the IOC needs. Ninja Warrior and Obstacle shows also produce millions of social media engagement. In a world focused on sustainability, Obstacle will also help reduce operational costs at the Olympic Games because it is many times cheaper than horse riding. It will transform Modern Pentathlon.
It is in the sport’s nature to evolve which is what I think is a real strong point of it because we do need to adapt as the world changes. Some events will never change and that is also a part of their charm in a different way, we will always have the 100-metre sprint.
And looking forward past Paris, how do you think the sport will continue to evolve in Los Angeles 2028?
We are still really building towards Paris 2024 at the moment and making sure that the changes we implement there are going to be as successful as they can be. Like I mentioned in the previous answer, we are cutting down the time of each event to 90 minutes, this is specifically designed to try and both engage new fans of the sport and retain the ones who are already in place. We are now just under a year away from the Games and it is such an exciting time for the sport in general.
An American Ninja Warrior-style obstacle course in LA28 is the evolution our sport and the Olympic Games needs. Millions of young people around the world will fall in love with our sport.
If you could work on one other Olympic sport what would it be and why?
I would like to try working in football, because I think you would have a lot of fun. But in terms of an Olympic sport, I would love to have a go at triathlon. I really love working in multi-event sports, just because it gives you so many options in terms of the different disciplines both as a competitor and an administrator.