Blast from the past: Modern Pentathlon misery for Tunisian trio

Rome 1960 Olympic Games, Opening Ceremony and the parade of athletes.
Rome 1960 Olympic Games, Opening Ceremony and the parade of athletes.

The Olympic Games are full of champions, records and stories, but they’re also an incredible encyclopaedia of strange, funny, emotional and sad moments. We’ll dig some out every week to put a smile on your face or a tear in your eye. This week: The Tunisian modern pentathlon team from 1960.

The background

There have been many legendary Olympic teams over the years; teams that have dominated their sports, caused unforgettable upsets or fulfilled the hopes and dreams of a nation. But for every winner, there are those who don’t fare quite so well and end up creating their own legend.

Such was the case of the 1960 Tunisian modern pentathlon team, a group of three athletes who performed so far below the level of competition that their story has found a permanent place in the annals of Olympic history.

Modern Pentathlon misery for Tunisian team
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The competition

Modern pentathletes are some of sport’s greatest all-around athletes. In order to succeed, they need to excel in five different disciplines: shooting, swimming, fencing, equestrian show jumping and running. The sport itself was conceived of by the father of the modern Olympic Games, Pierre de Coubertin, who believed “the event would test a man's/woman's moral qualities as much as his physical resources and skills, thereby producing the ideal, complete athlete”.

This wasn’t quite the case for Tunisia’s Lakdar Bouzid, Habib Ben Azzabi and Ahmed Ennachi, the protagonists of one of the most miserable sporting stories in history.

The issues the Tunisian team would face became apparent very early in the competition. In the swimming race, one of the team needed to be saved from the pool after showing obvious signs of distress in the water - not a normal occurrence in the showcase of humankind’s greatest feats of athleticism that is the Olympic Games.

But that was just the start of this comedy of errors. Equestrian is one of the highlights of the individual and team competitions, and is an event made markedly more difficult by the fact that riders only meet the horses they will ride shortly before the competition begins. However when the event started, each one of the Tunisian riders was flung from their mounts, leaving them sprawling on the floor as other riders navigated the jumping course in front of them.

But perhaps the most memorable part of the story occurred during the fencing event. One of the team was actually quite a skilled fencer and performed admirably when it was his turn to compete. However, when it was the turn of the other two team members to fence, the sneaky trio sent out that same athlete twice more in their place - presumably thinking the mask he was wearing would stop people from noticing.

The results

This final devious act led to the team being disqualified from the fencing portion of the competition. They eventually finished the entire team competition with 5,126 points, which was a staggering 5,000 points below the next team and almost 10,000 behind the winners.

In the individual competition, the trio fared no better, finishing the competition in last, second last and third last position.

So if watching Simone Biles ever made you think you could never be an Olympian, remember the tale of Lakdar Bouzid, Habib Ben Azzabi and Ahmed Ennachi, the bumbling Tunisian modern pentathlon team.