R.Retirement is not a word that means much to Olympian Ed Fernon. When the modern pentathlete first hung up his riding boots, sword and pistol after failing to qualify for the 2016 Games, he climbed the highest mountain in the southern hemisphere (Argentina’s Aconcagua at 6,960 m) and won the longest horse race in the world , the Mongolian derby. It is perhaps not surprising that it didn’t cost much to lure him out of retirement to take another leap into the Olympic discipline of the modern Pentathlon.
“Out of the blue, three months before the Tokyo exams, I got a call from my old coach asking me to make a comeback,” said Fernon. “I was on my way to a business meeting and didn’t think about it much. But he kept calling me. Finally, I decided to train hard for six weeks to compete in the New Zealand championships and see what would happen. I won this competition and was selected for the Tokyo exams on the Australian team. I went there, started well, and got the seat. It’s been quite a whirlwind journey. “
Whirlwind is certainly an apt description for Fernon. New South Welshman, only 33, runs a real estate development company and has two young children. Since qualifying for Tokyo, Fernon has balanced his professional and personal commitments with an intense training schedule. “It’s a constant challenge,” he says. “I’m just trying to work two or three hours a day to keep the ship buoyant. I’m fortunate to have good people around me who can help.”
Fernon was one of the first Australians to be selected for the Tokyo Olympics after attending a selection event in Wuhan in November 2019. He left the Chinese city just a month before the first cases of Covid-19. “Because I had just been there, I started very early,” he says.
While other athletes had disrupted their preparations for Tokyo due to the pandemic, Fernon was able to concentrate on training last year. “I was already selected by this point, so I didn’t have to do anything to keep my place,” he says. Fernon lived on a farm near Yass in rural NSW and had the perfect training environment. “I trained rocky style,” he says. “I built a jumping arena on the farm, set up a small fence system in the garage, shot from the porch and ran down the street. It was great to have the support of the local swimming pool that I was swimming in as well. I was incredibly lucky. “
Although there is still uncertainty about the games, with increasing vocal disapproval among the Japanese populationFernon is confident that he will fly to Tokyo in eight weeks. “Some people ask me [about cancellation] and I just discard it right away, ”he says. “The media has teamed up whether it happens or not, but if you have conversations with the people who actually know what is going on, it is absolutely certain that it will continue. And as an athlete, you can’t think like that, even if there’s a 1% chance it won’t go on. You just have to concentrate fully on the job. “
Ed Fernon with his son Xavier. Photo: Hanna Lassen / Getty Images
The word pentathlon comes from the Greek, a combination of five (penta) and competition (athlete). The original Pentathlon was a hallmark of the ancient Greek Olympic Games; A combination of wrestling, sprint, javelin, discus and long jump, the event was seen as a test of the athletic qualities soldiers need. The modern equivalent has been featured in all Olympic Games since 1912.
As the format of the sport has evolved over the decades, it has retained its multidisciplinary quality. In Tokyo, Fernon and his colleagues will compete in a fencing round robin with an épée sword, followed by a 200 meter freestyle swim. The participants are then paired with a random horse and have to complete a jumping course after only 20 minutes of tying. Finally, the athletes take part in a “laser run” – three rounds of a kilometer-long course, each with a round of pistol shooting at the beginning. This last event has a timed start based on the points scored in the previous events. This means that the first person to cross the line is the overall winner.
The variety makes the training an interesting offer. “It’s a very difficult sport,” says Fernon. “I think the most interesting thing is that you have athletes from different backgrounds. Some are very strong swimmers, while others are athletics-oriented. That means that everyone has different strengths and weaknesses. Right now I do two to three workouts a day, focusing on the fencing and the running and shooting event – which is probably one of the most important as it is the final event and can be make-or-or. Interruption. “
Athletic as a kid, Fernon played cricket and rugby and ran cross-country in high school. He also rode with a friend who owned a farm near Wagga Wagga. “I loved riding down there on school holidays,” he says. But it wasn’t until his college years that Fernon came across the sport of the modern pentathlon.
“I was 19 years old, studied at university, lived on campus most nights, drank and carried on like a young person,” he remembers, somewhat embarrassed. “I felt like my life didn’t have a lot of meaning – and I was just looking for a challenge. My uncle suggested I try modern pentathlon – I didn’t even know what it was. “Fernon met Daniel Esposito, who represented Australia in sport at the 1984 Olympics and whose father he is Chloe Esposito, who won gold in 2016.
Ed Fernon rides Chatte Van T Welthof at the London Games 2012. Photo: Alex Livesey / Getty Images
“I remember meeting him and he said, ‘It’s too hard to try a sport, you have to make a 100% commitment to go to the Olympics,” Fernon says. “At this point I’ve never had a pistol, never a fencing sword, and was a terrible swimmer – so it was pretty daunting to hear. But it was the best advice. I made a very clear decision that I should use my spare time while studying Qualification for the Olympic Games in London. “
He qualified and finished 27th at the 2012 Games. “It was a great honor to represent my country,” says Fernon. But after spending his savings traveling the world to compete (“I came back a very poor man,” he says) and consequently starting a business, his commitment to the sport began to wane.
“The training is so full – I was just tired,” he says. “I went to the Rio exams, did not perform well, and just got to a point where my mind and body were no longer there. I had lost my passion for it. After not qualifying for Rio, I gave up and didn’t think I would ever come back. “Not that he wasn’t looking for a challenge – he climbed Mount Aconcagua and won the Mongolian derby in the years that followed.
“You have to make life interesting,” he says. “You have to challenge yourself, find yourself in an uncomfortable environment, because that’s the only way you can really learn and grow as a person. All of these things are ways for me to learn about myself and to push myself. I fail a lot, but failure is part of the process. “
Chloe Esposito memorably won modern pentathlon gold for Australia five years ago in Rio. Photo: Yasuyoshi Chiba / AFP / Getty Images
Part of the challenge of the modern Australian Pentathlon is the lack of funding. A big boost was given during exercise, though Esposito won gold at the Rio OlympicsFernon says this has not sparked continued interest and support.
“Chloe is an amazing person – she won an Olympic gold medal – but a few years later she can’t get sponsors, the support isn’t there for her,” says Fernon. “I think people are a little more aware of the modern Pentathlon [post-2016], but we don’t have the right structure – there is no funding, unlike overseas where all athletes are full-time professionals. You still have to do everything yourself. “
However, Fernon remains optimistic that this could change. “There was undoubtedly a lot of interest [since Esposito’s win] and there are some great young kids out there who are incredibly interested, ”he says. “If we are successful with the Brisbane Olympics offering in 2032, there may be more funding for the Olympic sport and we can grow.”
Fernon wants to retire after Tokyo. “My wife is due with our third child about a week after I return, so my priority is back with the family,” he says. “I’ll hang up the boots, the sword, the gun, and look forward to becoming a father and running the business again.”
However, it is unlikely that this will be the last time we’ll hear from Ed Fernon. “There will be something, there will always be something,” he says. “There’s nothing on the horizon yet, but my motto is to surpass the adventure of life. I am always interested in how I can put myself into unpleasant situations and new challenges. This won’t be the last thing I’ve ever done, I can tell you. “