When Brendan Anderson (Colorado Springs, Colo.) attended his first modern pentathlon camp at age 10, he had no idea what was in store.
“I kind of got into it by accident,” Anderson admits.
A fortunate accident, as the 18-year-old standout is set to represent Team USA at the Nanjing 2014 Youth Olympic Games later this month. Anderson will be the only member of the U.S. Youth Olympic Team competing in modern pentathlon, a sport which combines fencing, equestrian, swimming, running and shooting.
Tell that to 10-year-old Anderson, though, and he’d say there wasn’t a chance. Back then, Brendan and his brother Ryan had signed up for a community fencing clinic at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. A coach there recommended the brothers give pentathlon a shot, pointing them toward a youth camp in Denver.
“We didn’t know what pentathlon was, but we wanted to fence a little bit more and the coach said fencing would be a big part of it,” Anderson said. “So we went, we ended up trying it out. And I ended up hating pentathlon.”
Anderson’s brother initially enjoyed it more. Ryan stuck with the sport, ultimately earning his spot on the U.S. national team and competing at the 2010 Youth World Championship in Upsala, Sweden.
As Brendan watched his brother continue to improve, the sport grew on him.
“I think I just started to get more involved with it over the next years,” Brendan Anderson said. “I started to swim a little bit more and run, and I joined some club teams. It started to become more fun, and I became more committed.”
That commitment involved balancing training with a high school workload – no easy feat in a sport with five disciplines. Anderson has managed to stay focused, though, winning the 2012 USA Modern Pentathlon Junior National Championship and finishing second in the 2013 edition.
And for the past two years, Anderson has had access to elite-level coaching and sport services through the U.S. Olympic Training Center (OTC) in Colorado Springs. A recent graduate of Cheyenne Mountain High School, he is now able to train full-time with the modern pentathlon resident team.
At the OTC, Anderson and his teammates swim in a 50-meter indoor pool and fence and practice shooting in a facility specifically designed for both sports. In addition, the complex features a newly renovated strength & conditioning center and a dining hall.
Anderson attributes much of his athletic success to the OTC experience.
“I have meals here, and it’s great to come in right after training when you’re in between sports. It gives me the time to fuel,” Anderson said. “I also have sports medicine, which is helpful in case I need massages or feel pain and need something to be adjusted. I know I wouldn’t do that as frequently if I trained elsewhere. And of course, the facilities – you don’t really get better facilities than this.”
Anderson is soon to see that training pay off in what is perhaps his biggest athletic challenge to date – the Youth Olympic Games.
The Youth Games are set for August 16-28, in Nanjing, China, and will feature more than 3,800 athletes between the ages of 15 and 18 from 204 nations. Designed to integrate sport with education and culture, the Youth Games emphasize the Olympic values of fair play, perseverance, respect and sportsmanship.
“I’ve heard really great things about the Youth Olympic Games,” Anderson said. “I’ve been trying to look through the handbook they sent us and find out about all of the different opportunities they offer, all of the cultural activities you can get involved in.”
When the time comes to compete – modern pentathlon takes place toward the end of the Games – he is confident he will perform well under the pressure.
“I’m hoping to fence really well, and that will kind of set me up for the rest of the day,” Anderson said. “Hopefully I’ll walk away with a top-five.”
Ultimately, Anderson hopes the Youth Games will be a stepping stone in a journey that culminates at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. He has been accepted to Boston College on a fencing scholarship, although he plans to defer his enrollment for one to two years in order to pursue his Olympic dream.
There are many stops on the road to Rio – including the 2014 Modern Pentathlon World Championships in Warsaw, Poland, and the 2015 Pan American Games in Toronto, Canada.
But first, Anderson will look to enjoy the ride in Nanjing.