Team GB’s modern pentathletes delivered three medals and two quota spots for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games on an eventful penultimate day of competition at the Krakow 2023 European Games, which saw nine medals won across the board.
Joe Choong, the current Olympic and World champion, secured one of Team GB’s modern pentathlon spots at next year’s Games following his silver in the men’s individual competition.
Choong, who needed to achieve a top eight finish to claim the quota place, went into the laser run in third position, with teammate Miles Pillage right behind him in fourth, after strong performances across the showjumping, fencing and swimming disciplines.
However, it was Italian Giorgio Malan that stormed to the European title with his 09:58:00 laser run helping him power home to victory by a significant distance. Choong crossed the line in second following a resilient run (10:05:70), with Csaba Bohm of Hungary completing the podium spots.
Fellow Brits Pillage and Charlie Brown finished fourth and 11th respectively, meaning Team GB clinched the men’s team gold medal, with their combined score of 4,548 bettering that of their French and Italian challengers.
Speaking after collecting his two medals, Choong said, “This competition has been fantastic. I really think it shows how good pentathlon can look for an audience when it’s organised well. In terms of facilities and organisation, this has definitely been one of the nicest competitions and we’ve been so lucky to be able to be to compete here.
“For my last two [Olympic] Games, I managed to get that qualification spot the year before, which means you don’t have to travel the world the year of the Games, doing every competition trying to chase the qualification points. It means you can really focus on which competitions you want and really get in a good block of training without the distraction and pressure of trying to get those points at the last minute.”
In the women’s competition, Team GB debutant Olivia Green brought home a bronze after a thrilling comeback in the laser run, also clinching an all-important quota place for the Paris 2024 Olympics.
After dropping two poles in the showjumping round and facing a tough field in the fencing, Green had a long way to climb going into the swim. Despite clocking a personal best in the pool (02:14:35), she lined up for the start of the laser run in 11th behind teammates Kerenza Bryson and Emma Whitaker in eighth and ninth, with Italy’s Alice Sotero kicking off the race twenty seconds ahead of her closest rival.
Aided by precision in the shooting, Green inched her way up the field and a gutsy final 600m saw her overtake a number of competitors, including Laura Asadauskaite (Lithuania) and Marie Oteiza (France) to take bronze just behind silver medallist Laura Heredia of Spain.
Green said, “Honestly, I just feel out of this world, I feel amazing. I’ve never had my own international medal on the World Cup series, Euros, any big competitions, so, to come and do it where there’s Olympics spots available as well, it just feels unreal.
“Coming into the competition, I obviously wanted to medal, wanted to win, wanted to get the Olympic spot, but it’s really difficult with pentathlon because there’s five sports and trying to pull them all together on the day there’s so much that could go wrong. So, for it to actually come together when I needed it to is just the best feeling.”
Ben Lane and Sean Vendy scooped a silver medal in the final of the badminton men’s doubles, where they took on the Danish pairing of Kim Astrup and Anders Skaarup Rasmussen.
While the first game went to the Danes, the British duo fought to turn the tide and take the second on a score of 21-19. The third started well for the Danes but, with everything on the line, the Brits came back from behind even the score and to take it to the wire. The match stayed point for point as the game reached its nail-biting conclusion, before the Danes finally pulled again to win 21-19.
Respective semi-finals for Marcus Ellis and Lauren Smith in the mixed doubles, and Kirsty Gilmour in the women’s singles resulted in two further bronze medals from the badminton court.
Ellis and Smith faced French opponents, Thom Gicquel and Delphine Delrue, who were yet to drop a set at the European Games – a streak that was initially continued as they overturned a six-point deficit against Ellis and Smith in a captivating first set. The Minsk 2019 European Games champions fought back to take the match into a third set with a 21-14 win in the second, but were denied the opportunity to retain their title with the French duo sealing match point with a three-point lead.
Gilmour’s run deep into the competition was halted by Spain’s Carolina Martin, with a 2-0 loss not dampening the spirits of two-time Olympian who had come through a number of electric knockout matches to reach the last four.
Team GB’s mixed relay triathlon team of Barclay Izzard, Connor Bentley, Sophie Aldon, and Sian Rainsley navigated treacherous, rainy conditions to win silver at the Nova Huta Lake, in Krakow.
Following some strong work from Izzard, Aldon and Bentley, the British quartet were well-placed in fifth going into the final leg, just 00:13 behind leaders Norway.
Rainsley battled hard and managed to claw the team back into medal contention, gaining three places after the swim. However, she couldn’t quite close the gap on European Games individual champion Solveig Lovseth, eventually bringing the team home in second (01:07:33), just four seconds behind their Norwegian counterparts.
Shooting finished their trip to Poland on a high by taking silver in the trap mixed team event. Lucy Hall and Matt Coward-Holley proved untouchable in qualification, with a score of 144 out of a possible 150. A shoot-out decided that Italy would go up against them in the gold medal match. The final was tightly fought, with the lead switching back and forth between teams, but the Italians eventually come out on top with a final score of 6–4 against the British pair.
After a rain-soaked medal ceremony, Team GB debutant Hall commented: “It feels absolutely amazing – my first Team GB medal! We shot great throughout and we just got pipped at the post, but I’m really, really happy. There isn’t a better feeling than wearing the Team GB kit with the Olympic rings on it. Hopefully, this is the first of many – I feel so proud.”
Elsewhere, Joe Clarke continued his blistering form in the 2023 season, winning his fourth medal of the calendar year with bronze in the K1 canoe slalom competition.
Clarke, who has won four international medals on the Krakow course previously, showed great character to recover from hitting the opening gate to set the overall standard, with his time of 89.80 placing him top of the standings with nine paddlers left to go.
However Swiss paddler Martin Dougoud and reigning Olympic Champion (Czech Republic) snuck in ahead of the Rio 2016 Olympic Champion, pushing him down to third position.
Hear a round up of all the action from Team GB at the European Games so far here, with featured interviews from gold medallists Abbie Brown and Meg Jones – co-captains of the women’s rugby sevens side – taekwondo fighters Jade Jones and Caden Cunningham, BMX rider Kieran Reilly and many more.
With thanks to Team GB