University City

Uptown to host pentathlon competition, Olympic qualifier

People with horses and guns will be taking over American Legion Memorial Stadium this week but don't think it's the Wild West show.

Several uptown sites will serve as host facilities for the Modern Pentathlon World Cup and Olympic Qualifier Mar. 8-11.

Memorial Stadium, the Grady Cole Center and Mecklenburg County Aquatic Center will host the five-sport competition that makes up Modern Pentathlon. All three facilities are operated by Mecklenburg County Parks and Recreation.

Memorial Stadium will be the site for equestrian and the combined run/shoot event. Fencing will be held at The Grady Cole Center, and swimming will take place at the MCAC.

Athletes from 37 countries will compete, attempting to earn points in each of the five World Cup events leading to the 2012 Olympic Games in London. Tim Morgan, director of sports marketing at the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority, says 300 people are competing.

"Tim showed us Memorial Stadium and I fell in love with the place," said Rob Stull, managing director of USA Pentathlon, the sport's national sanctioning body. "The skyline behind it and Grady Cole being (nearby) was a no-brainer. And as the crow flies, the Aquatic Center is less than a mile away."

Morgan says he is the "self-proclaimed local expert for Modern Pentathlon," acknowledging the sport's lack of ties to the Charlotte region. The event is one of three sporting events with an Olympic flavor the area will host in the next couple months.

The U.S. Whitewater Center will be hosting the Canoe Slalom Olympic Trials April 12-14 and the UltraSwim event, which annually draws world class swimmers, will take place at MCAC May 10-13.

While those two facilities were built to accommodate their sports, the 75-year-old Memorial Stadium and the 50-plus-year-old Grady Cole Center, by nature, have multiple uses. Fencing may not be such a stretch for Grady Cole, but Memorial Stadium hosting equestrian and shooting-themed competitions is new.

In February, 2011, Morgan visited Palm Springs to observe the Modern Pentathlon World Cup No. 1, the equivalent of this week's event. He understood that the greatest challenge Charlotte would have is staging the equestrian event.

"It's a limited space," said Mike Moraglia, facility manager for Memorial Stadium and the Grady Cole Center. "We have to set the targets up for the shooting, the warm-up area for the horses and the actual course.

"Another challenge was the angles the targets had to be. They couldn't be in the direct sunlight. So, we have to figure where the sun will be in first week of March in the afternoon."

Getting the horses to Charlotte, however, has been the hardest work. In one of the several partnerships the CRVA established with local groups that have a level of expertise in their sports, the U.S. Pony Club/Carolina Region was invited to help secure 25 jumping horses from the Charlotte's vicinity.

The Charlotte Rifle and Pistol Club and a local member of USA Track and Field, for example, are working together to stage the event known as the Combined Event (running and shooting). At Memorial Stadium, competitors will alternate shooting laser pistols at a target 10 meters away and running a 1,000-meter course inside and outside the stadium.

The greatest challenge for staging the fencing competition was arranging for and transporting 10 fencing strips and accessories with the help of U.S. Fencing and the Charlotte Fencing Center. SwimMac is assisting with the swimming portion, an event that will last only about an hour and will barely disrupt the MCAC regular schedule.

Of course, a lot of manpower is needed to host the Modern Pentathlon World Cup. In addition to the three facilities' staff, Morgan estimates that 100 volunteers are needed each day .

For more information, visit www.cltworldcup.com.

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