At 5'9", 152 pounds, Jànos Martinek is the smallest man on Hungary's modern pentathlon team, and at 23, he's the youngest. He helped lead his country to the '87 world title, but in the months before the Games, he'd been shaky, particularly on the pistol range. So the question arose, Could he endure the grueling demands of an Olympic pentathlon?
On the first day the pentathlete rides a randomly chosen horse over a 600-meter, 15-jump course; on the second he engages in an èpèe duel with every other competitor; on the third he swims 300 meters; on the fourth he shoots at targets with a .22-caliber pistol; on the fifth he runs a 4,000-meter cross-country race.
In Seoul, some horses couldn't clear the fences, and they caused a downfall of competitors. As luck would have it, the three Hungarians drew ridable horses and, paced by Martinek's sixth-place finish, were fifth after the first day. In fencing, Martinek was second, and Hungary took over first place. He was was less impressive in the swimming event, finishing 1.5 seconds short of his personal best.
The next day Martinek shot a 188, his best score of the year. That performance kept the Hungarians on top in the team standings, but the U.S.S.R.'s Vakhtang Yagorashvili, 24, fired a 193 to pass Martinek in the individual competition by scoring 4,217 to Martinek's 4,188.
October 2, 1988
The 4,000-meter run is handicapped. An athlete is penalized one-third of a second for every point he trails the leader. Hence, Martinek started the race 9.66 seconds after Yagorashvili began. However, by the 2,000-meter mark, Martinek had passed him. At 3,500 meters, said Martinek, "I knew I was Olympic champion."