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The money is lying there, just a few feet away from the blonde with the gun in her hand. Her dark blue eyes take on a steely glint as she zeros in on the mark. If she can pull this off, the money will be hers. But she doesn't look at it. She isn't in this for the money. Lori Norwood, of San Antonio, the women's world pentathlon champion, sights down the barrel of the Walther OSP and squeezes off five rounds—blam, blam, blam, blam, blam! The mark never stood a chance. She lowers her arm and lets out a soft sigh.
Janusz Peciak, coach of the U.S. modern pentathlon team, calls out, "Forty-seven points out of 50. Lori wins." Norwood, 25, doesn't crack a smile. This is practice, after all, and the money is merely Peciak's way of keeping things interesting. "There are a lot of things I can't do or say now that I could before I won the world championship," Norwood says softly as she picks up the pot—60 cents' worth of nickels. "I used to whoop or cheer when I beat someone in practice, but now I feel I have to have extra humility."
"Lori is very shy," says Peciak. "She never acts like she's a big star. It doesn't matter whether she's the world champion or in last place, she has the same personality. I really like that about her. She's a very nice person."
Peciak's partiality aside, Norwood really is a very nice person. She is a sweet-faced, soft-spoken, introspective woman who spends a great deal of time reading and thinking about things besides pentathlon—things like art, life, the environment. Her serene countenance belies the fact that Norwood is a driven, focused competitor who came back after a two-year layoff to win the world championship in Wiener Neustadt, Austria, in August 1989. Last month she won the prestigious San Antonio Cup International, knocking off many of the same competitors she beat in Austria.
In Europe, Norwood is a star. Her picture hangs in the modern pentathlon museum in Budapest. But in the U.S. scarcely anybody knows who she is. Like its champions, pentathlon is practically unknown on this side of the Atlantic. Ask most Americans what a pentathlon is, and you'll get something along the lines of, "Urn, let's see. It's half a decathlon, right? Probably discus and, uh, pole vault. That's in there, right?" Wrong.
The five sports that make up the modern pentathlon, introduced at the 1912 Olympics, are running, swimming, riding, shooting and fencing. All are skills once needed by a 19th-century military courier to get through enemy lines: 1) riding an unfamiliar horse across uneven terrain; 2) running swiftly, in case the horse became disabled; 3) swimming across rivers; 4) shooting his way through enemy ranks; and 5) skewering any leftover bad guys with his épée. So what's a nice girl like Norwood doing in a macho sport like this?
Well, she was an Army brat. She lived in Panama, Thailand and Brazil, among other places, countries where her father was a U.S. military officer dealing with intelligence—something Norwood possesses in abundance.
"This sport may require more mental discipline than any other." says Bob Nieman, the only American besides Norwood ever to win a world championship, which he did in Budapest in 1979, beating Peciak, then of Poland, by 16 points. "Lori's got a real good head for the sport."
"She's very disciplined," says Peciak. "And she has a talent for work. Lori is a person who hates to lose. She's much tougher in the brain than the men."
Peciak, the 1976 Olympic champion and the '77 and '81 world champion, admits that Norwood is his favorite student. She would be any coach's dream—she follows orders without question and never complains, no matter how much she may be hurting. Her idea of fun is a 10-mile run. Other U.S. team members may straggle into practice 20 minutes late, but she's always on time. Although practice starts at 8 a.m., Norwood is up at 6:30 so she can be fully awake and focused for her workout.