South Pasadena resident Jake St. Clair took a trip to Egypt this summer, complete with a visit to the pyramids. However, the teenager was no common tourist.
St. Clair made the journey as one of the United States’ representatives at the 2021 Modern Pentathlon Junior World Championships.
“It was pretty intense. There were a lot of different competitors from a lot of different countries,” St. Clair said. “It was definitely a lot of fun just to go and give it my best. I think outside of the competition, just seeing another part of the world was also really, really cool.”
St. Clair, who was 16 years old at the time and has since turned 17, competed at the Junior World Championships in Alexandria, Egypt. As one of the younger competitors, he gained valuable experience competing at an elite level against some of the best junior pentathletes in the world.
“Like 90% of [the competitors] were 20 to 21, so they had a fair amount more years of experience than I did, but I think I did my best,” said St. Clair, who is beginning his senior year at South Pasadena High School. “I think our team was the youngest team competing at the event.”
He finished 35th in his qualifications group in individual competition. St. Clair also teamed with Daniel Crowley to finish 16th in the relay.
“In the first half of the relay and the individuals, I was kind of getting really nervous, but then I calmed myself down and I was like, ‘Just do it like you do in practice,’” St. Clair said. “Then I actually started doing a lot better.”
St. Clair had earned his spot on the team for Alexandria by winning silver medals in the Junior division and U19 (Youth A) division at the U.S. Pentathlon National Championships.
“I think we found pentathlon when we were watching the [Rio de Janeiro] Olympic Games in 2016,” St. Clair said. “I was like, I already do two of those sports, so it would be cool to go check it out… The latter half of 2019 I decided I wanted to go try it.”
The modern pentathlon is a five-discipline event combining fencing, freestyle swimming, show jumping, pistol shooting and cross-country running that all takes place in one day.
“My mom is really, really good at organizing,” St. Clair said of handling practices and logistics. “Honestly, I don’t think I’d be able to get everything done [without that]. It’s a lot to juggle.”
The fencing portion is epee. St. Clair took up fencing specifically for the pentathlon and trains at Swords Studio under the direction of coach Luis Dealba Yount.
“My favorite right now is probably fencing. It is very tactical,” St. Clair said. “Every bout is really thrilling and tense, but it is also really rewarding, especially when you actually get a touch. It’s a lot of fun. It’s kind of like a roller coaster.”
The discipline St. Clair has been doing the longest is swimming — which in competition is a 200-meter freestyle swim — while being part of Pasadena’s Rose Bowl Aquatics Club.
“I’ve spent most of my childhood swimming at the Rose Bowl,” St. Clair said. “It’s probably my strongest event because of that.”
St. Clair swims under the guidance of coach Jeff Klotz, who happens to know Dr. Genadijus Sokolova, the high performance director of U.S. Modern Pentathlon.
“It’s really exciting to have someone like Jake really into [pentathlon] and Genadijus seems to think he has a lot of promise, too,” Klotz said. “I’m just impressed with the fact that [Jake] is able to organize his school, his training and his competition and just maintain the kind of person he is… He’s a really, really nice young person.”
Jake has been on the swim team throughout his time at SPHS and hopes to be captain next spring.
The equestrian showjumping, which is 15 fences in competition, came naturally to Jake and is ingrained in the St. Clair family.
“I grew up riding horses down at San Pascual [Stables],” said Jake, who continues to train there, coached by his older sister Sophie.
St. Clair took up running for the pentathlon, and it is a work in progress.
“I think if I have anywhere to put a lot of effort in my training, it’s running,” he said. “I think that is where I lost a lot of points [at the Junior Worlds].”
The pistol shooting and cross-country running comes in the form of the Laser Run. This combines four rounds of laser pistol shooting, each requiring clearing a series of five targets at a distance of 10 meters, alternating with four laps of 800 meters.
If all goes well, this year’s Junior World Championships will not be the last elite-level international competition for St. Clair.
“I want to see how far it takes me,” he said. “As far-fetched as it seems, if I can make it to [the Olympics in Los Angeles 2028] that would be cool, but I’m taking it step by step.”