SWIM, FENCE, RIDE, RUN AND SHOOT
Olympian Max Esposito explains how he trains for the five-way demands of modern pentathlon.
RIO OLYMPIAN Max Esposito is a rising star of the Australian modern pentathlon scene. The 20-year-old was the youngest man in the field at the 2016 Olympics and was only seconds away from a bronze medal, finishing in seventh place. Getting to the podium would have emulated the effort of his sister Chloe, who won a stunning gold-medal victory in the women’s event. Modern pentathlon is an Esposito family passion – not only for Max and Chloe, but father (and coach) Daniel, who represented Australia in the sport at the 1984 Olympics. To better prepare for Rio, the family moved to Budapest, Hungary (mum Suzanne stayed behind in Sydney) to live and train there in the lead-up to the Games. Ahead of a world championships in August, we spoke to Max about how he trains for the five different sporting components of modern pentathlon, overcoming fears, and how his sport is truly a family affair.
COVERING ALL BASES
“We even-out our preparation across the five sports as much as possible. We know that some people can catch up a lot in the swimming, running and fencing – they are the three important ones. Every discipline is important, but it is even better if you go well in these three events.
“The combined [running and shooting] is the last event. If you train for running a lot, you can easily catch up a lot of places, and if you shoot a lot as well. You get a [points] handicap at the start, so it is easy to build your way up if you run and shoot well.”
“We swim five days per week, Monday to Friday from 6-8am; two hours in the water. With running, it’s five days per week. With these two sports, we like to change it up a bit. Some days we focus on sprint work, other days on distance. We also have easy swims or runs to mix it up.
“We ride three days per week. When in Budapest we do our swimming then immediately drive out to the riding. Some days it’s flat work, jumping or going out on a trail ride. It’s good how we mix it up a bit, so it’s not always the same. We have our rest period during our lunchtime. In the afternoon, it’s fencing four days per week – an hour and a half to two hours of free-play – with lessons on top of this.
“With shooting, we practice five days per week, whenever we fit it in with all the other sports. For example, on Tuesdays and Fridays, we might do a combined event – running and shooting. Friday would be our easy run, do a 1km loop – then come in and shoot. Or a track session, after each 400m.
“People ask how can you shoot with a high heart rate from 10m, with one arm? It all comes from practice and training. When in a competition, with people next to you, you’ve just got to focus on yourself, and your practice and training. If you start worrying about the other people, it can all come tumbling down.”
“Fencing in Australia is not that great. When looking at fencing results, Hungary is high up there in the fencing. Before the Rio Games, we lived over there for two and a half years. It’s a lot of footwork practice, point work, and keeping things sharp. We go fencing here too and work on given tasks to see how we can improve.
“The goal is to try and get as many hits as possible. With my fencing, it’s like a rollercoaster, really – some days good, some days bad. I want to get consistency.
“Our dad runs our whole program. He coaches us with swimming, running and shooting. We also have a riding and fencing coach.”
“Every riding session, we try to get a different horse each time and do a cycle with it. A lot of horses have different feelings. Some you might need to kick more to make it faster, or hold back because it is going too fast. That’s why it is good to ride as many different horses as possible.
“I get really nervous in the horse riding. Sometimes I get nervous because I wonder what the horse is going to do. I have all these thoughts in my head like ‘I hope it’s not a bad horse, not too strong’ or so on. I panic a lot because I want a good horse. It all comes down to training. From what we hear, some pentathletes ride once or twice a week, or some don’t even train until two months before they start to hop on a horse.
“We ride three times a week and do it through the whole season, even when it’s offseason as well.”
“You need to be mentally strong because when I do a competition, I only worry about myself – not about other people. Physical – sometimes it is going to be difficult. Your body can’t always perform at its best all the time. Always going to be your down moments ...
“I think sometimes it helps me a bit to work myself up – telling myself I’ve trained really hard and that I just want to get a good time. All the hours put in – all the effort, I hope to get a good time. I always have two different minds – something negative, but then something positive. When I compete, I try and stay fully calm and collected.”
“For each discipline, I have a set target or task I have to work on. With swimming, I found that if I go out too fast in the first 100m, I die in the second 100m. We had to test the waters – how I could do a good 200m without getting exhausted right at the beginning. It was about doing the first hundred comfortably but steady, then bringing it home in the second hundred. I work on each lap as a 50m sprint. “We have to pack our own equipment – from swimming costumes, cap, goggles, to fencing swords, outfits, horse riding outfits, running gear and guns [air rifles with a laser barrel]. We provide everything ourselves except for the horses.”
“It’s all my family together. We all work as a team and help one another out. I think our communication as a group helps as well. Because we know everyone really well, we can say our own opinions and thoughts.”
PEOPLE ASK HOW CAN YOU SHOOT WITH A HIGH HEART RATE FROM 10M, WITH ONE ARM? IT ALL COMES FROM PRACTICE AND TRAINING.
The Bronte Splashers Swimming Club claims to be the world's oldest winter swimming club, dating back to 1921. Members meet at 9.30am every Sunday at Bronte Baths to keep fit well before the warmer months arrive.