Britain’s strong hopes of earning medals at the International Modern Pentathlon Union (UIPM) World Championships starting in Cairo tomorrow have been ended by the latest British Government update on travel restrictions.
Following the decision to add Egypt to the red list of countries, meaning people in Britain should not travel there, from 4am tomorrow, Pentathlon GB issued a statement saying it was "disappointed to confirm that the British modern pentathlon team have been withdrawn from the UIPM World Championships."
It is a huge blow for a team that looked ready to challenge for the podium in both the men’s and women’s competitions in a championship that offers Olympic places for all six medallists and also vital ranking points for all participants.
At last month’s UIPM World Cup final in Hungary Britain’s 30-year-old Rio 2016 Olympian Kate French won the individual title for the second time in her career after a dominant season in the World Cup series, while Britain’s Thomas Toolis took silver in the men’s individual event, passed just a few metres from the line by France’s Valentin Prades.
Britain won the men’s world title in 2018 through Jamie Cooke, and Joe Choong took silver the last time this event took place in 2019, while French claimed bronze in the 2019 women’s race.
"Whilst significant effort has gone into preparing the athletes, coaches and support staff ahead of the event and ensuring the logistics for travel and competing are safe, following consultation with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and Pentathlon GB’s insurers, the British team set to travel to Cairo, have regrettably been withdrawn from the competition," the GB Pentathlon statement read.
"The athletes and staff set to travel are understandably disappointed with the outcome of the announcement - particularly due to the importance of the UIPM World Championships for those looking to achieve Olympic qualification status ahead of Tokyo - and Pentathlon GB are committed to providing the necessary support to all those impacted."
Up to three women on Saturday (June 12) and up to three men on Sunday (June 13) will join the 23 women and 23 men who have already secured a quota place for their countries at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, with automatic spots available to World Championship medallists according to the criteria set out in the UIPM qualification process.
Dozens of other athletes will be pushing themselves to the limit in pursuit of points to improve their standing in the UIPM Olympic World Rankings (OWR), which will determine most of the remaining places at the Games.
With French, and her talented team mates Joanna Muir and Francesca Summers out of the running, the chances of Belarus completing a somewhat belated hat-trick in the women’s event have increased.
Anastasiya Prokopenko won in 2018 and in 2019 Volha Silkina earned gold, with last year’s edition being cancelled because of the pandemic.
Both previous winners are taking part this week, along with compatriot Iryna Prasiantsova, as the trio are locked in a fierce internal battle for Olympic qualification.
Following the UK Government’s foreign travel update, Pentathlon GB are disappointed to confirm that the British Modern Pentathlon team have been withdrawn from @WorldPentathlon World Championships taking place in Cairo, Egypt 8-13 June— Pentathlon GB (@PentathlonGB) June 6, 2021
Full statement ⬇️https://t.co/vU53pP62wX pic.twitter.com/75S2Cf1zre
France can expect to feature strongly, with Marie Oteiza in the form of her life and Rio 2016 Olympic silver medallist Elodie Clouvel needing a good performance to secure her Tokyo 2020 place.
World number two Annika Schleu of Germany will be hoping to back up her silver medal success from the UIPM 2021 World Cup Final in Szekesfehervar.
According to the OWR Michelle Gulyas of Hungary is currently in possession of one of the quota places that will be awarded to nations via this mechanism, and some of the others looking to defend their position in Cairo will be Mayan Oliver of Mexico, Alice Sotero of Italy, Russian Gulnaz Gubaydullina, Anna Maliszewska of Poland and Ilke Ozyuksel of Turkey.
Others in the field include London 2012 Olympic champion Laura Asadauskaite of Lithuania, Rio 2016 bronze medallist Oktawia Nowacka of Poland, Asian champion Sehee Kim of South Korea, Pan American Games champion Mariana Arceo of Mexico and 2019 world silver medallist Elena Micheli of Italy.
With a tricky Olympic selection conundrum to resolve, South Korea have sent a full team to Cairo led by Woongtae Jun, with former world champion Jinhwa Jung and reigning Asian champion Jihun Lee aiming for peak performance.
France are likely to have a say in the outcome with reigning world champion Valentin Belaud lining up alongside Valentin Prades, who won his third Pentathlon World Cup Final in such dramatic circumstances last month.
Germany have three top 20 ranked athletes jostling for two coveted Olympic places - brothers Patrick and Marvin Dogue and Fabian Liebig, who has become regarded as one of the fastest finishers in the sport.
Hungary is another country with multiple options in terms of Olympic selection, and there will be an intriguing internal battle between Bence Demeter, winner of their one quota place, and London 2012 bronze medallist Adam Marosi among others.
According to the OWR, Rio 2016 silver medallist Pavlo Tymoshchenko of Ukraine is one of the athletes currently in possession of a quota place, and he is joined high in the pecking order by Marosi, Liebig, Ilya Palazkov of Belarus, Ahmed Hamed of Egypt, Sebastian Stasiak of Poland and Jan Kuf of the Czech Republic.
On the eve of the competition, UIPM President Dr Klaus Schormann spoke at a well-attended media conference along with Egyptian sporting dignitaries.
He also took a tour of the facilities in the company of Witold Banka, President of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), who was on the first day of an official visit to Egypt.
The 2021 UIPM World Championships were originally due to be held in Belarus but the political situation there prompted a switch to Cairo in January of this year.