It is 7.25am on a bleak pre spring morning. A man wearing the unlikely combination of jogging gear and a bowler hat, breathlessly crosses the invisible line that marks the boundary between London Bridge and King William Street and triumphantly presses his stopwatch.
It’s another personal training best for Jim Baines, perhaps Great Britain’s brightest hope for a 2012 Olympic gold. Unknown to all but a specialist sector of the athletics world, Jim is a member of team GB’s Commuter Pentathlon squad, a sport that is to be reintroduced to the Olympics for the first time since 1964.
The Commuter Pentathlon measures the key disciplines required of a successful commuter including the sprint for the train; seat occupation; taxi hailing; pushing and shoving; and finally the dash across the river. Athletes all start from a set point but may make their way to the finish line by any mode of public transport with additional marks awarded to competitors for rudeness and general attitude. The event is unique in that it takes place amongst the travelling public, with the athletes competing for medals alongside everyday commuters simply going to work. For 2012, TV viewers won’t miss a single piece of the action thanks to London’s extensive closed circuit camera system.
Having recovered his breath, Jim explained the origins of the event. “The CP was first devised for the 1948 London games when post war austerity required new events that needed little or no new infrastructure. Whilst many of these sports such as frog gutting on Hackney Marshes and pigeon herding in Trafalgar Square died out, the CP continued as an Olympic event right up until 1964 when the entire Tibetan team was lost for weeks in the Tokyo subway system.”
Baines is keen to stress that the sport is a thoroughly modern event despite the headgear. “That is a throwback to the inaugural games when amateurs competed on their way to work’ he said “but we have managed to lose the brolly and pin striped suit since 1948.”
Olympic gold medallist, Steve Ovett, assessed Team GB’s prospects. “It’s early to say, but the team’s training regime, general fitness, and, of course, encyclopaedic knowledge of Southern Rail’s timetable must be a factor.”