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Pentathlon's World Cup In Town

Legend, a 13-year-old Appendix horse lives on a farm in Gray Court, South Carolina.

Legend, a 13-year-old Appendix horse lives on a farm in Gray Court, South Carolina. Photo: Tanner Latham Athletes from 35 different countries are in Charlotte this week to compete in a Modern Pentathlon World Cup, the first of five cup events in cities throughout the world. Each of these events has Olympic qualification ramifications. But for some, the first question might be, "What is a pentathlon?" As Alicia Henderson tends the horse stables at Latta Plantation, she stops for a second to listen to one named Legend chewing hay. "When you're leaving the barn after cleaning it up and closing the lights and all of that," she says. "It's just such a nice sound. It's peaceful or something." Legend is a 13-year-old Appendix (half thoroughbred and half quarter horse) from a small farm southeast of Greenville, South Carolina. He is one of 29 horses loaned by their owners to be ridden during the Modern Pentathlon World Cup. The international sport holds five of these World Cups this year, and this weekend's event is the only one in the U.S. It's an Olympic qualifier. So the men's and women's winners earn trips to the 2012 Games in London this summer, no matter which country they're from. Modern Pentathlon. That's five events: swimming, fencing, equestrian, running, and shooting. They'll swim at the Mecklenburg County Aquatic Center, fence at the Grady Cole Center, and run, shoot, and ride horses at Memorial Stadium. And with the horse, the riders follow a course and jump a series of obstacles. But here's what's interesting: The riders don't know what horse they'll draw until the day of the event. And they have only 20 minutes to ride it before the competition starts. Sam Sacksen's eye patch was literally cut from a milk jug. He says it helps him relax and focus while he's competing in the shooting event. Photo: Tanner Latham That's less of challenge for Sam Sacksen from Westchester, Pennsylvania who grew up with horses. "I'm lucky that I'm very experienced in that, so I can figure out what they want," he says. "How they go pretty quickly, and I can develop a strategy to know what I'm going to do by the end of those 20 minutes with this particular horse." Sacksen began competing in the pentathlon at the age of 17 and represented the U.S. in 2008 at the Beijing Olympics. He's hoping to return to the Games this year. One already guaranteed a trip to London is 21-year-old Melanie McCann, who will be there on behalf of Canada. After flying in from Ottawa Tuesday, one of McCann's first stops was the Mecklenburg County Aquatic Center pool. "Today we're just going easy, but doing a few fast intervals to make sure that we're feeling fast," she says. "But it's a pretty light workout today, so nothing too strenuous, nothing too stressful." Melanie McCann and her coach John Hawes live in Ottawa. She has already qualified to be on this year's Canadian Olympic team. Photo: Tanner Latham The swimming portion is a 200 meter freestyle race. We'll move right along to fencing. Competitors use an epee-that's the name of that bendy, blunt-pointed sword-to try to land one touch on their opponents in one minute. Now, those first three events are all points-based. They determine the staggered starting order for the last two events that combine running with shooting targets with a laser pistol. They used shoot lead pellets with air pistols. So, this will actually be the first year for laser pistols in the Olympic Games. While they shoot lasers, they're still equipped with compressed air cartridges to replicate the weight and sound of air pistols. Organizers are quick to tout the guns' safety. We return to Sam Sacksen, who shoots with a plastic eye patch-actually cut out from a milk carton-covering his left eye. He says the patch keeps him relaxed and focused. "So, if you think about it, when you squint your eye, you're already tensing something up," he says. "So, it's going to cascade out into the rest of your body. So, by covering this eye, you have the benefit of your dominant eye focused on the target. At the same time, you have your other eye open, and you have a more relaxed way of going about it." The women's semifinals began today. And competition continues through Sunday. And seeing it all is pretty cheap. Just $5 per venue each day.