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Olympic champion, once expected to miss Tokyo, gets new chance in 2021

Chloe Esposito

Australia’s Chloe Esposito poses with her gold medal in the women’s modern pentathlon at the Deodoro Stadium during the Rio 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro on August 19, 2016. / AFP / Yasuyoshi Chiba (Photo credit should read YASUYOSHI CHIBA/AFP via Getty Images)

AFP via Getty Images

Chloe Esposito announced in late January that a “wonderful, unexpected surprise” had occurred and that she wouldn’t be able to defend her modern pentathlon title at the Tokyo Olympics.

“My husband, Matt Cooper, and I are bringing a mini Cooper into this world in August,” Esposito said on social media. “True to form, nothing ever works out the way we plan it. Defending my title will have to wait another four years. Can’t wait to be a mum.”

Less than two months later, on March 24 to be exact, Esposito and thousands of other Olympic athletes learned that the Tokyo Games would be postponed by a year until July 2021 because of the coronavirus pandemic. While for some it meant more time to recover from injuries, or a decision to put off retirement for another year, Esposito realized it might give her a second chance to be in Tokyo next year.

One good thing — for this Australian athlete, at least — to come out of the worldwide sadness and madness.

“I actually don’t remember where I was when the news about the postponement came out,” Esposito said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press from her home in western Sydney. “I think I was teaching some kids swimming. But I do remember thinking that this will actually work in my favor.”

Esposito’s son, Ted, was born on July 29, and she proudly posted on Instagram a photo of her and husband Matt’s addition to the family the following day.

So how’s it been since?

“I love it so much,” the 29-year-old Esposito said of her life as a mother. “I’m back into training, but only started running a week ago. Also some Pilates, gym and swimming. I’m slowly building up.”

Still, she’s still uncertain about Tokyo, even with the delay.

“My plan was to come back only if I was 100% fit,” Esposito says. “Maybe I am more looking toward 2024 (in Paris). They haven’t announced any qualifying events for next year, and I have to qualify.”

Part of the problem in her return has been the distance she has to travel in Sydney to get to suitable training venues. The modern pentathlon has five disciplines — swimming, fencing, equestrian (show jumping) and a combined shooting and cross-country running finale.

Her equestrian training is 40 minutes away and fencing about the same.

That’s a lot different from her previous training base in Budapest, Hungary, where she spent two years in advance of her Rio Olympic gold and about two years following.

“It’s the best place for training . . . modern pentathlon is so big there,” Esposito said. “I credit Budapest and Hungary with helping me get gold in 2016.”

It certainly was a big win in Rio four years ago after Esposito finished seventh in the same event at the London Olympics.

She went into the last event — the running and shooting discipline — at Rio in seventh place and overcame a 45-second handicap at the start to win the gold medal, setting an Olympic record of 1,372 points. She missed only one target in the four series of five shots and her final combined time of 12 minutes, 10.19 seconds earned her the gold.

On hand to see her win was her father and coach, Daniel Esposito, who competed in modern pentathlon for Australia at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, and her 23-year-old brother, Max, who made his Olympic debut in the same sport. Max Esposito has been slowed by injuries and may not be ready for Tokyo, but Chloe says he hopes to be in Paris in 2024.

“It would be great to have us both in Paris, and with Ted watching us,” Esposito said.

In the meantime, Esposito continues to practice when she can, and take the time to experience some scenic Sydney beach walks with Ted in his stroller.

And taking a pragmatic approach about next year in Tokyo.

“I’m slowly getting back into it,” she told AP. “I’m still not too sure, At times I feel like a little bubble girl. So we’ll see.”

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