Modern family: Chloe Esposito’s pentathlon triumph a reward for years of sacrifice

Rio de Janeiro: The Chloe Esposito story is a tale of family and sacrifice.

About three years ago some of the Esposito clan – siblings Chloe and Max and father Daniel packed up and left their home in Casula, western Sydney, for Budapest. They left behind sister Emily and their mother Suzanne.

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Ahead of them was an often difficult journey that would result in the most stunning of climaxes here on Friday night, with Chloe’s gold medal in the women’s modern pentathlon, Australia’s first ever medal in the sport.

The reason behind the move was this: Chloe, who was seventh in London four years ago, and emerging talent Max, who at 19 is making his Olympic debut as the youngest in the men’s field in Brazil this weekend, were only ever going to be able to get so far if they remained in Australia, where modern pentathlon is the most fringe of pursuits.

Chloe and her father, an Olympian who competed in Los Angeles in 1984, had already been traipsing back and forth between Sydney and Europe for competitions. In Hungary, despite being away from her family and friends, she could further her skills in fencing, the first of the disciplines that make up the sport, the others being swimming, horse-riding and the combined run and shoot.

The displacement hasn’t always been easy, even more so now because her fiance Matt was also in Sydney.

“I miss family, friends, the beach… they’ve got lakes and pools and stuff in Budapest, but it’s not like home,” Esposito said.

“I was lucky enough to have dad and Max, my brother there with me the whole time and mum was there with me for parts of that as well, which I was grateful for. But my sister was back in Australia and my fiance as well.

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“He made a few trips to Budapest, as much as he could. He’s from England so I went to London a few times with him. It’s been a tough few years but it’s been worth it.”

To watch Esposito blitz the field by 16 seconds in the run and shoot finale at Deodoro Stadium you wouldn’t know that her Olympic lead-in had been so interrupted. An achilles injury made her a no-show at major competitions and she was downcast about her prospects in Rio.

However, after two months of high-altitude training in Mexico either side of the Hungarian championships, the 24-year-old began to believe that it all might fall into place here after all.

“It was a very tough year. I didn’t get to do any World Cups or anything because I had a problem with my achilles,” she said. “So I was really disappointed about that and at the beginning of this year I was just really down about that. I didn’t think it was going to go well.

“Then, it was about a month and a half ago, training was going really well and I’ve never thought this before ever but I thought ‘you know what, I can win’ I just had this gut feeling that ‘I can do this’. I just believed in myself and it happened.”

Fencing form: Esposito (left) in action against Isabella Isaksen of the USA.Fencing form: Esposito (left) in action against Isabella Isaksen of the USA.

It was Chloe’s determination on foot and composure at the pistol shooting range that saw her sweep past six rivals and claim gold after starting 45 seconds behind the frontrunner. But she readily admits the triumph she experienced here would not have happened without the mentoring of her father Daniel, who is also the siblings’ coach.

“I started pentathlon because of Dad. Otherwise I wouldn’t really have known about it, because it’s not really popular in Australia and not many people do it,” she said.

“He’s a very, very tough coach and I hear a lot of the other people [in the sport] say that the Espositos, they train so crazy or they do too much. But it’s paid off. I couldn’t’ have done my past results or today without Dad.

“I’m a bit of a drama queen, but he doesn’t ask of me anything I can’t do. There are times when I’ve been a bit too emotional, but that’s at training. When we go home everything is back to normal.”

Esposito competes in the equestrian portion of the women's modern pentathlon.Esposito competes in the equestrian portion of the women’s modern pentathlon.

For the understated Daniel Esposito, this was an unforgettable victory that was years in the making.

“The whole family [made a lot of sacrifices]. We’ve had difficult times. But it’s been fun as well and it worked out,” he said.

“I wasn’t the greatest athlete. I was OK but nothing flash. But I think you can look back and learn from your mistakes and try and educate the athletes and make them learn quicker.”

Training partners: Chloe and her brother Max train together in Budapest, coached by their dad Daniel.Training partners: Chloe and her brother Max train together in Budapest, coached by their dad Daniel.

The Espositos had to leave Australia for Chloe to climb to the top of the Olympic podium. Her hope, now that she has put such a little understood sport on the map, is that others may not have to.

“I hope a lot of young people have seen this and want to start pentathlon because I know it’s not very popular in Australia and that’s why we had to move overseas,” she said.

“But I hope since this maybe it becomes a lot more popular and a lot more children want to start pentathlon. It would be so great.”

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