Fruitvale athlete to compete in 2019 Pan Am Games

After just a year of competition, pentathlete Claire Samulak is headed to the 2019 Pan Am Games

Modern pentathlon athlete Claire Samulak of Fruitvale earned a spot on Team Canada and will compete in the 2019 Pan American Games in Lima, Peru at the end of the month. Photos Alena Jenkins

With just over two years of training, Fruitvale native Claire Samulak is set to compete on the World stage.

Samulak, 25, is one of three women named to Canada’s Modern Pentathlon Team competing in the 2019 Pan Am Games in Lima, Peru July 26 to Aug. 11.

“I’m really excited,” Claire told the Times on Tuesday. “I’m a little bit scared for my first major Games experience for sure, but everyone keeps telling me it’s a good thing.”

Related read: Trail athletes go for gold at Pan Am Games

Samulak joins veteran modern pentathletes Shauna Biddulph (Saskatoon) and Kelly Fitzsimmons (Calgary) on Canada’s women’s team and Joel Riker-Fox and Garnett Stevens on the Men’s.

The Modern Pentathlon is one of the most challenging and unique events at the Games. Consisting of five sports, including one-touch épée fencing, 200-metre freestyle swimming, equestrian show-jumping and a final combined laser pistol shooting and running event (referred to as Laser Run), the events are done consecutively and the competition completed in one day.

Samulak earned the third women’s spot at the Pan Am Championships in November 2018 in Lima, a test run for the Games, and also competed at the Nationals in Langley in May, where she tallied the necessary points to be named to the team.

The Samulak family has a history of riding and rodeo, and Claire was inspired by her father, Darcy, at an early age to pursue the modern pentathlon.

“My dad was my coach in a lot of different sports I did growing up and he has a kinesiology degree. He knew about the modern pentathlon being an original Olympic sport, and he planted a seed in my head as a teenager.”

While there were no facilities in the Kootenays that provided the necessary training, Claire renewed her interest when she moved to Calgary to attend Mount Royal University. Through her work with horses, she met a modern pentathlete and became thoroughly invested in the sport.

“I was, ‘please take me to the fencing club, please take me to the pool’ … so that’s kind of how it started. I’ve been training for about two-and-a-half years and competing for just over one year now.”

Samulak’s rise to the top of the competitive pool has been meteoric considering the disparate sports included in the pentathlon. Her hard work, athleticism, commitment and riding experience helped overcome a number of hurdles, but even she is surprised at her progress.

“I did my first competition in June 2018,” said Claire. “It was the Alberta Provincial Championships and I thought, ‘Okay well maybe I’ll just do one, and we’ll see maybe in the next four or five years I can ramp it up and get to the international level.’

“It’s gone really fast, it’s been a year of accelerated learning for sure.”

The modern pentathlon was introduced in the 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm to simulate the attributes of a good military officer. It became a full time Olympic sport for women at the Sydney Olympics in 2000, with adjustments made throughout the years.

The sport has grown in popularity, and Samulak is currently ranked 120 in the world.

In the competition, athletes earn points (up to 300) based on predetermined times in the equestrian and swim races, while fencing is a marathon series of one-point matches against every one of the 36 competitors.

Naturally, Claire’s strength is the riding element, but it also comes with a twist.

“I come from an equestrian background so I’m definitely stronger with the riding even though you don’t ride your own horse. You have 15 minutes to get to know your horse before you jump the course. But I am most confident with that, and after that I’m strong at fencing.”

Her ability to learn and work through the challenges while staying relatively healthy has certainly speeded her progress.

“I have been working very hard … and the fencing is pretty gruelling. In Pentathlon, it goes on for hours and hours you have to fence everybody to one point and win or lose, if neither of you touch in 90 seconds, it’s a double-defeat, both lose. My target is to have about a 70 percent victory in the fencing, so that’s my goal.”

Once the first three events are completed, athletes are seeded in order of their total points for the Laser/Run event. The number of seconds each athlete starts after the highest ranked competitor is determined by their points difference. Following a short burst run to the laser targets, the athlete must complete five shots on the target’s bullseye within 50 seconds, and then complete an 800-metre run … they do this four times.

Samulak’s expectations are tempered by her inexperience, and she considers this Pan Am Games the ultimate learning curve. She is, however, keeping her sights aimed high in the coming years.

“This is a great start for me, I need to experience major games, and set me up for a very strong quad of training leading into the next Pan Am Games and hopefully qualify for the Olympics.

“If I keep working hard, I can definitely see myself going to the 2024 Olympics,” she added. “I really want to keep working towards going to Paris.”

Samulak joins a select number of Fruitvale athletes who recently competed at the Pan Am Games. Ella Matteucci won silver in women’s baseball at the 2015 Games in Toronto and Chris Kissock earned bronze in men’s baseball in Mexico in 2011.

Lima 2019, will bring together approximately 6,700 athletes from 41 nations of the Americas and feature 62 disciplines in 39 sports. It will be the largest sporting event ever held in Peru.

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