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Anybody got an extra stirrup?
Alice Higgins
September 14, 1959
At the Pan American Games old saddles and balky horses turned the modern pentathlon into a classic of confusion
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September 14, 1959

Anybody Got An Extra Stirrup?

At the Pan American Games old saddles and balky horses turned the modern pentathlon into a classic of confusion

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As Perez struggled with Breeze, Uruguay's lone representative, Walter Belen-Ramos, was having his troubles with Grey Boy on the course. Belen-Ramos decided to take a short cut, which is allowed by the rules in certain places, but the area he had chosen when walking the course earlier had now filled with spectators. Before Belen-Ramos could stop or even swing Grey Boy aside, the horse had run down a spectator and kicked the headlight out of a car. As he finally slowed Grey Boy, Belen-Ramos heard shouting and turned to find the irate car owner in full pursuit. Belen-Ramos decided to become a hit-and-run horseman and quickly gave Grey Boy his head.

By now Chile's Gonzalez had been presented with an apparently subdued Eightball and rode him to the starting gate, which was situated next to a woods filled with underbrush. The countdown began. Gonzalez leaned forward in the saddle. The starter said, "Go!", and Eightball raced off into the woods. Nothing could be seen but shaking bushes and nothing heard but the sound of cracking branches. Then the underbrush parted and Gonzalez, on foot, lurched out, carrying a stirrup, which he flung to the ground in a fine display of rage. Eightball decided to check on things and peeked around a tree. Gonzalez grabbed him. Aware that the clock was still running, he hastily replaced the stirrup, climbed aboard, clapped the spurs and took off in a cloud of dust. They stayed together until the fifth fence.

Gonzalez was able to capture Eight-ball again, but this time he decided not to remount. Back he walked into the start, leading Eightball. The scorekeepers, knowing he was the last competitor, started from their posts. But the Chileans had other ideas, and after an excited conference with Gonzalez, rushed over to the jury to inform them that Gonzalez would finish the course. With a certain reluctance, Gonzalez again mounted Eightball and started off around the course at a walk. And that's the way he finished, too, in just under an hour. Anyone waiting for a message brought by Gonzalez would have to be a little patient.

The fencing, on the second day, did not get off to a very auspicious start either. For one thing, the fencing judges did not turn up. Fortunately, Ben Furth, a former pentathlete, wandered into the Naval armory just to watch the day's event and was promptly pressed into service. He had a long day, too, as the fencing took 13 hours. And it was not without an untoward incident. While the U.S.'s Leslie Bleamaster was fencing with Mexico's Antonio Almada, a lunge by Bleamaster caught the Mexican out of position and the American's �p�e was inadvertently driven into Almada's left hand.

From then on, though, things went more or less smoothly. Brazil's Malta took a firm hold on first place in the individual competition, though Bob Miller of the U.S., who had won the riding, also won the shooting competition and finished second in swimming. (The American team of Bleamaster, Miller and George Lambert had the team medal all but clinched by the third day.) The duel between Malta and Miller wasn't actually settled until the cross-country run on the fifth, and final, day. Miller, trailing by 147 points, was to start the course one minute after Malta. To win the pentathlon, he had to catch up with Malta; but as they ran the course, the distance between them remained more or less the same. Then, when Malta emerged from a quarry, which was roughly halfway around the course, other Latin Americans who had already finished ran out to spur their fellow Latino home. They took turns pacing him. Down the homestretch Perez of Mexico ran on one side and Belen-Ramos of Uruguay on the other, shouting encouragement. Malta finished strong, bettering his own personal mark by more than a minute, while far behind, the exhausted Miller staggered along in a state of near collapse. He lost so many points that he finished fourth, behind Malta and U.S. Teammates Lambert and Bleamaster.

It is probably significant that Malta, the man who best survived the mental and physical tribulations of the five-day event, is a paratrooper in the Brazilian army and has made 89 jumps.

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