Chad Senior walked down the Smith Center steps about two months ago and walked into the interview room located near the locker rooms. Despite being a two-time Atlantic 10 swimming champion for GW a few years back, Senior never had 20 reporters and photographers crammed in a little room waiting for him to speak. Now, Senior has a reason for such publicity.
That’s because Saturday, more than three years after his 1997 graduation from GW, Senior is doing what only 23 others are setting out to do – win the one-day Olympic Pentathlon in Sydney, Australia.
I could be going to Timbuktu right now for all I care, Senior said at the interview. I’m going for a job, for a very important task for me. At some point I’ll go back to Sydney to vacation there because I know I won’t see any of it now because I’m very focused on what I’m doing there.
This event isn’t the everyday sport of choice for the average athlete. But after graduating college, Senior enlisted into the United States Army and was assigned to the World Class Athlete Program in Fort Carson, Colo. That’s when he decided to become a pentathlete. Senior was considered the No. 1 pentathlete in the world in June.
The event has five disciplines – pistol shooting, fencing, swimming, equestrian show jumping and cross-country running. In the first competition, Senior will fire 20 shots at a fixed target 10 meters away using an air pistol. Senior will then use an epee sword for one-hit, one-minute, sudden-death matches.
Senior will then have to race in a 200-meter freestyle race, a strong point for the GW graduate who currently holds school records in the 1,000-yard and 1,650-yard freestyle. Senior holds the world record for the swimming portion of the pentathlon finishing the discipline in 1:58.90. The fourth event of equestrian show jumping will require Senior to ride a randomly selected horse through a 12-jump course over 350 to 400 meters. To complete in the pentathlon, Senior must run in a 3,000-meter race, a distance of just under two miles.
The winner of the pentathlon is the athlete who crosses the finish line first. The athlete with the most points entering the fifth discipline will run first, with the following pentathletes starting the race in intervals corresponding to how many points they are behind.
Senior is a constant competitor, who said his competitive drive came from always losing to his older brother while growing up. It was this drive that kept him in pursuit of his Olympic dream six months ago when he nearly quit the pentathlon for the triathlon, citing frustration with shooting and fencing as the reason.
Fencing is the hardest unless I get a bad horse, Senior joked.
Poor shooting is what cost Gen. George S. Patton, the United States’ first modern pentathlete, when he competed in the 1912 games in Stockholm, Sweden. Patton, who went on to lead the Army in Europe in World War II, failed to win a medal and placed fifth.
But Senior stuck with the sport and qualified for the Olympics by winning the Modern Pentathlon World Cup in Mexico City in February. The victory also made Senior the first American to ever win the modern pentathlon individual gold.
Senior said his daily preparation is intense. His days include swimming, horse-riding and running in the mornings and then hours of fencing and pistol shooting after lunch. He also said he misses college and wants Foggy Bottom to know he will proudly be representing both the United States and GW in Sydney.
I wish I was coming down those stairs to go swimming, Senior said.
Most of my time was centered around that pool. I just spent so much time here. But it’s kind of bittersweet to come back because you remember how much fun college was. Even though what I’m doing now is pretty neat, nothing will ever really compare to the time you have it college. It’s such a unique and fun time in your life.
Senior also reflected on the Smith Center and the GW Delicatessen, both of which, he said, played major parts in his college career.
I think that the biggest difference I’ve seen so far was I think the price of the egg and cheese sandwich at the GW Deli went up 20 cents, Senior said. They use to be $1.10.
Senior said he has fond memories of his days swimming for GW.
I only come back to D.C. occasionally for my Army responsibilities, Senior said. And coming down the stairs it was funny because I started smelling the Smith Center. And there’s a distinct smell. The first thought that popped in my head was I that was walking down the stairs and going to get ready for a swim meet which was kind of a nice feeling, actually.
There will be no swimming in the Smith Center this weekend for Senior, but rather a competition of global significance in Sydney’s Aquatic Centre. The time has come and the final preparations have been made. This Saturday, GW’s very own Chad Senior could prove to the world that he is the best pentathlete in the world.
Anything you want to do is possible, Senior said.
And that could includes winning Olympic gold.