Some Olympic sports can be explained in three words. Run the fastest. Lift the most. Jump the highest.
And then there is the modern pentathlon, a thoroughly bizarre and entertaining mix of sports that will thread through uptown Charlotte for the next four days.
Modern pentathletes are some of the most versatile athletes in the world. They have to run, swim, shoot a gun, ride a horse and fence their way through their five-event competition, all in one day. Think of the skills that a swashbuckling pirate would need to learn and you've got the idea.
Margaux Isaksen, a 20-year-old from Arkansas, is one of the best women modern pentathletes in the world.
"It's an obscure sport, but it's diverse and very cool," Isaksen said. "To be among the best at it, you have to be good at everything and great at one or two things."
Isaksen's specialty is running - she was a long-distance high school running champion in Arkansas before she became a pentathlete. She also has long known how to ride a horse, having grown up on a farm in Fayetteville, Ark. (she broke her arm at age three falling off a horse).
Some of the other sports, however, were a mystery to her when she first tried the modern pentathlon as a teenager.
"I was horrible at first," Isaksen said. "I had never held a gun. I didn't know how to do a flip turn in the pool."
But Isaksen got so good so fast that she made her first U.S. Olympic team at age 16, in 2008. She wasn't a medal threat then but will be this year. Her younger sister Isabella is also a pentathlete and will be in Charlotte for this competition as well. It is questionable how much, if any, Margaux Isaksen will compete, however, because she is trying to recover from a lingering bout with mononucleosis and U.S. officials are determined she doesn't suffer a relapse before the Olympics.
Isaksen also has an unusual North Carolina connection. For the past eight months she has dated Joey Cheek, the Olympic gold medalist speedskater who is originally from Greensboro.
The competition in Charlotte won't solely decide the U.S. Olympic team, but it will have an impact since it is a major World Cup event with athletes from three dozen countries competing. If you've never seen the pentathlon, it's worth watching. The best parts will be at Memorial Stadium, where the running, shooting and horseback riding events will be held. Tickets at the door are only $20 to see everything and less if you want to watch just one event (cash only). Kids 12 and under are free. What we have this weekend in Charlotte is literally an Olympic-caliber event for the price of a movie.
One more hint: If you plan to go, it's essential to visit CltWorldCup.com first - it has detailed schedules for every day of this strange, fascinating competition.