The Telegraph August 2021
Updated: Jan 13
Modern pentathlon: Meet the septuagenarian coach inspiring Britain's gold rush. Jabeena Maslin helped Team GB to an unprecedented double gold in Tokyo.
By Marcus Armytage, RACING CORRESPONDENT
Of all the coaches at the Tokyo Olympics, who would have predicted that the most intense scrutiny would fall upon a person responsible for only a fifth of one event?
After the now-infamous meltdown of Annika Schleu, as she tensely and tearfully tried to get an ounce of cooperation out of Saint Boy in the showjumping round of the modern pentathlon, her riding coach, Kim Raisner, was thrown out for telling her to hit the horse harder and “punching” it.
When I was a boy being dragged round the showjumping circuit in the south mainly as company for my sister, I invariably had four faults in the first round and had to wait half the day for her to compete in a jump-off. Often taking part in the adult classes in the next door ring was one person who stood out for two reasons other than her great affinity with horses; her unique and unforgettable name, Jabeena Maslin, and her trademark bowler hat – which offered about as much protection as a paper napkin in the event of a fall.
When, in a semi-nod to health and safety, the British Show Jumping Association made chinstraps compulsory, David Broome even tried to instigate a campaign for Maslin to be allowed to keep wearing her distinctive headgear.
“I was taken to Patey’s in London, but none of their hats ever fitted, so I stuck with the bowler,” Maslin, 76, recalls. “But I eventually had to give it up because it looked so awful with a harness attached.” Adopted at an early age by a farming family from Wantage, her older sisters’ best friend at school was a South African called Gabeena and when their new sister arrived they changed the G for a J and, thus, she became Jabeena.
“I’ve never met another,” she says. “But the comedian Harry Worth wrote to my parents asking if they minded him calling his daughter Jabeena [he actually named her Jobyna].” She was already competing at the Royal Windsor Show, meeting the Queen aged five, and represented Great Britain on junior and young rider teams. The British pentathlon team first came calling in 1974 at the behest of Capt Jim Fox, one of the founding fathers of the sport here and a part of the three-man team which won gold at Montreal in 1976.
Queen Elizabeth II presents an award to Jabeena Maslin in 1955 CREDIT: PA/PA Archive
The management, believing riding a random horse drawn from a hat was more down to luck than skill, wanted him to be sent to the local riding school for lessons. He, however, insisted on Maslin and she has been involved one way or another for approaching 50 years.
“Back in those days they did not take the riding seriously and treated it as if it’s a lottery, but it’s not,” she explains. “A show-jumper is one-on-one with a horse, a pentathlete has got to be able to ride different horses – it’s tough, they’ve got 20 minutes and a few jumps to get acquainted. They need to have good hands and good energy – they can’t come in being dreamy, they have to be sharpened up. It’s like building a house; if the foundations aren’t right, it will fall down.”
French, 30, has been having coaching sessions with Maslin pretty much once a week since she was put on the modern pentathlon programme aged 16 and, if it really was a lottery, then French would not consistently keep winning.
Maslin might be pushing for oldest coach at the Olympics, but having helped the team to an unprecedented double gold, she is only just hitting her stride.
Having survived breast cancer and had her knee replaced in 2018 and spent her life ‘married to horses,’ she still mucks out 30 some mornings and retirement is not on her agenda. “They asked me to stay on and I said if I can’t do it, I’ll tell ‘em,” she says. “After all, it’s only three years.”