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By Steve Keating
TORONTO (Reuters) - It is called modern pentathlon but it is the old guard looking poised to go out in a blaze of glory at the Tokyo Olympics and usher in a new vibrant made-for-television era for the sport as it undergoes an overhaul for the 2024 Paris Games.
Modelled after the skills of the ideal soldier, modern pentathlon is the only sport created especially for the modern Olympics when it was introduced by Baron Pierre de Coubertin in Stockholm in 1912 and has remained relatively unchanged ever since.
Originally modern pentathlon's five events; pistol shooting, epee fencing, freestyle swimming, show jumping, and a cross-country run were contested over four days. At the 1996 Atlanta Games, the current one-day format was adopted and in 2000 women were added to the program.
But in 2024, there will be tectonic changes that will see the entire competition packed into a 90-minute window in an effort to make it more audience-friendly.
With viewer numbers at or near the bottom of all Olympic events, modern pentathlon's place on the Games program has been questioned.
The sport's leaders have heard the rumblings and acted to come up with what it describes as a faster, more connected and compact format.
"A new era for our core Olympic sport will begin in the birthplace of our founder, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, in 2024," hailed Dr Klaus Schormann, president of the International Modern Pentathlon Union (UIPM) after the International Olympic Committee (IOC) approved the new format in early June.
Not everyone has been impressed with the modernization of modern pentathlon.
Britain's Kate French, a gold medal contender in Tokyo, told Eurosport that she is uncertain about continuing in the sport because of the changes.
"Modern pentathlon isn't the most watched or most popular, but I think there are other ways that we could market the current product better," said French. "I love the sport as it is already."
Even as the sport embraces a new look, it is old faces leading the way to Tokyo.
Hungary's Adam Marosi, the 2009 world champion, shot back into Olympic medal picture when in June the 36-year-old turned back the clock winning his second world title 12-years after his first.
Australia's Chloe Esposito will not be in Tokyo to defend her Rio title after having a child but 32-year-old silver medallist Elodie Clouvel of France is back. Lithuanian Laura Asadauskaite, the 2012 London Games winner, will be looking to end her career on a golden note aged 37.
Anastasiya Prokopenko, who waited a decade to be awarded bronze from the 2008 Beijing Olympics after Ukraine's Viktoriya Tereshchuk was disqualified for doping, will be looking for a more clear cut result in Tokyo where the 35-year-old reigning world champion is a top medal contender.
(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto, editing by Pritha Sarkar)