BENGALURU (Reuters) - French modern pentathlete Cedric Chatellier gave his seal of approval to obstacle course racing following its first official test as a potential replacement for the equestrian element in the sport from the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics.
Chatellier, 19, an individual bronze medallist at last year's Youth World Championships, was among nearly 100 athletes from 19 countries who registered for the test event at Ankara, Turkey last week.
Pentathletes and professional obstacle athletes raced on a bespoke course that included obstacles like Rope Swing, A-Frame, Over-Under-Through, Hurdle, Rings, Balance Beams and a Tsunami Wall among others.
"In the beginning I was a bit confused. It was hard to think this sport is going to replace equestrianism and thought, 'It's a game. I see this on TV with Ninja Warrior'. I didn't take it seriously," Chatellier told Reuters in a telephone interview.
"But I saw the competition with the others, took part myself and it was a lot of fun. I liked it and I think it can be a good alternative for the equestrian discipline.
"I think it's a good idea to test other formats too. Like if it was across 65 metres, we can also test across 100 metres with more obstacles or more distance between obstacles... to find the best format."
Modern pentathlon was introduced at the 1912 Stockholm Games as a representation of the skills required of a cavalry officer -- fencing, swimming, equestrianism, shooting and running.
The sport's governing body UIPM said in May it had selected two variations of obstacle racing for testing from more than 60 options to replace equestrianism.
That decision came after German coach Kim Raisner struck a horse at last year's Tokyo Olympics when it refused to jump a fence, which led to criticism of the sport.
OPPOSITION TO CHANGE
Pentathlon United, a group formed to oppose the change, had urged the International Olympic Committee to intervene, saying UIPM's consultation process was "illusory at best".
It added that an April survey of 310 athletes -- 168 of them active -- showed more than 95% were unhappy with the way change was being made, while 77% said they would probably leave the sport if equestrianism was removed.
Olympic champion Joe Choong told Reuters in May he would walk away from modern pentathlon if UIPM pushed ahead with its controversial plans.
UIPM will conduct a second test on Aug. 6-7 in Manila, Philippines alongside a Ninja World Cup event and Chatellier said it would build interest.
"My message (to pentathletes), is to not be afraid. Go to the tests with a positive mindset and you'll see it's a great alternative to the equestrian discipline," he added.
"It's more simple, more equal for all athletes. The spirit of pentathlon won't die because of the retiring of equestrianism because it's like a military sport... obstacles are part of the military too."
(Reporting by Shrivathsa Sridhar in Bengaluru; Editing by Toby Davis)