Jess Davis posing with her husband and father in the women's modern pentathlon final
Joe Kusumoto

Jess Davis celebrates with her husband and father after competing in the women's modern pentathlon final during the Pan American Games Santiago 2023 on Oct. 23, 2023 in Santiago, Chile.

Jess Davis Qualifies for Paris with Fourth Place Finish in Modern Pentathlon

by Brendan Rourke -

SANTIAGO, Chile — On the rainy, chilly morning of Oct. 23 in the center of Santiago’s pristine military school, a pair of U.S. modern pentathlon athletes battled for a roster spot for the upcoming Olympic Games Paris 2024. 

After the final results were tallied, the reigning national pentathlon champion and recent Division I-A fencing national champion, Jess Davis, secured her roster spot for the Paris Games with a fourth-place finish.
In a tense sport where one slip-up can cost a competitor several spots, Davis remained calm and collected throughout the sport’s new 90-minute format, where athletes must complete an equestrian jumping course of 12 gates (10 stations, two with double gates) under one minute, single-touch fencing bouts, a 200-meter freestyle swim, and the fast-paced laser run, all within the duration of a summertime rom-com.
“This was just absolute icing on the cake,” Davis said post-race. “The last Pan American Games, for me, went very poorly with the disqualification on the ride. So, today, when I got on my horse I felt good.
“It was the first time I felt relieved that I was finally going to put together the day I wanted to have four years ago.”
The laser run combines running and target shooting. Athletes must run a 600m winding course five times. In between each lap, they must hit a minuscule target with a laser pistol at a distance of 10 meters. Points in the previous events determine your starting time for the run, as it is staggered in a similar fashion to some road cycling races.
For Davis, the laser run, which stands as the competition’s final event,  became crucial to her finish. The Bethlehem, Connecticut native posted the fifth-fastest laser run, improving her overall placement by two spots when the competition closed.
“The run has become one of my best events,” she stated. “But it never started as one of my best events. And I’ve put in so much work, and it’s really nice to actually see it pay off.
“I kind of have a little bit of imposter syndrome. I always feel like there are better runners and faster runners. But today, I decided to go into the mindset that I am one of the faster runners, and run my hardest.”

Jess Davis and Phaelen French compete in the women's modern pentathlon final during the Pan American Games Santiago 2023 on Oct. 23, 2023 in Santiago, Chile. (Photo by Joe Kusumoto)

An Olympic sport since 1912, modern pentathlon tests an athlete’s ability to pivot on a dime. When one event doesn’t go as planned. They must wipe it from memory and press on. For Davis, forgetting a bad event was the key to being successful today.
“I’ve always said in pentathlon that the day is not over until it’s over,” Davis explained. “We’ve all seen the craziest things happen in the last two events.
“I didn’t have the fence that I necessarily wanted…and it’s really easy to get stuck in the mindset of ‘I’m not going to be able to do it, and not going to be able to make the points. But, the beautiful thing about the sport is that you always can.”

In the initial fencing ranking round, Davis tallied 20 victories to 12 defeats, a result she was somewhat upset about after working on her fencing skills for most of 2023. The work paid off in June when she clinched a national fencing title at the Division I-A level.
Davis’ teammate, Phaelen French, also posted a speedy laser run time, the seventh-fastest of the competition, which elevated her to a seventh-place finish in the overall stands. French is a Major in the U.S. Air Force and is ranked second nationally in modern pentathlon behind Davis.

Women's Modern Pentathlon in Santiago

24 photos