Margaux Isaksen (1991–)
Margaux Isaksen was a world-class competitor in the modern pentathlon, an Olympic sport in which athletes compete in fencing (one-touch épée), freestyle swimming, equestrian show jumping, pistol shooting, and cross-country running. A three-time Olympian, Isaksen first started competing at the international level when she was fifteen.
Margaux Isaksen was born on October 7, 1991, in Fayetteville (Washington County) to Tommy Isaksen and Kathleen West. She has a younger sister, Isabella. Isaksen’s father died of colon cancer when she was two years old. Isaksen and her sister were raised by their mother, who later married Steve Ferguson.
Growing up on a farm in Fayetteville, Isaksen had ready access to horses and the opportunity to ride. In addition, she ran cross country, beginning in junior high school. Her mother participated in triathlons and so was familiar with multi-event competitions, and after Isaksen’s sister evinced an interest in fencing, the girls took lessons together. Isaksen’s fencing instructor, whose own daughter had been a pentathlete, suggested she try the pentathlon after learning of Isaksen’s horse riding and cross-country running.
While she experienced some early difficulties in swimming, Isaksen took to the sport quickly, bursting onto the national scene in June 2007, when she won all three U.S. National titles—senior, junior, and youth. She then moved to the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado. In February 2008, she made her first World Cup Final at the year’s first World Cup competition in Cairo, Egypt. She improved on that thirteenth-place finish with a runner-up placement at the second World Cup competition in Mexico City. Those efforts helped secure her a spot on the 2008 Olympic team for the games in Beijing. There, at sixteen years of age, she finished twenty-first.
Isaksen continued to compete at the highest levels over the next few years, with her victory in the 2011 Pan American Games sealing her spot on the 2012 U.S. Olympic team. During the 2012 Olympics in London, Isaksen narrowly missed out on the bronze medal, finishing fourth by just a few points despite having suffered from mononucleosis, which had interrupted her training only a few weeks before the games began. The near miss was an experience that left her replaying each race and match, agonizing over the possible lost seconds in a race or the missed touch in fencing that might have yielded the needed points to earn a medal. Despite the disappointment, she won the 2013 Rio World Cup less than a year later.
Isaksen continued to compete successfully in the intervening years, efforts highlighted by winning a bronze medal in the mixed relay at the 2015 World Championships. In 2016, she was named to the U.S. roster for the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games, becoming the first pentathlete to represent the United States in three Olympics. This time, she was joined on the U.S. pentathlon roster by her sister. Competing just five weeks after she had undergone surgery for a stress fracture, Isaksen was unable to duplicate her London performance, finishing twentieth in Rio.
Just prior to the Rio games, Isaksen, who had grown up on the family farm and loved the outdoors, penned an op-ed piece that appeared in numerous newspapers calling for greater protection for federal lands. Less than a month after the Olympics, she again went public with her concerns, appearing alongside Utah senator and majority leader Harry Reid and Arizona congressman Ruben Gallego at a press conference where they all called for greater protection of the priceless national resources.
For additional information:
Cardenas, Cat. “Olympics: Pentathlon Brings Isaksen Sisters Back Together.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, August 19, 2016. https://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2016/aug/19/olympics-pentathlon-brings-isaksen-sist/ (accessed April 12, 2023).
“Margaux Isaksen.” Team USA. https://www.teamusa.org/usa-modern-pentathlon/athletes/margaux-isaksen (accessed April 12, 2023).
“Margaux Isaksen on Pentathlon’s Changes, Balancing Training, More.” SI.com, June 8, 2012. https://www.si.com/olympics/2012/06/08/margaux-isaksen-pentathlon (accessed April 12, 2023).
Robertson, April. “Margaux Isaksen.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, March 22, 2015, pp. 1D, 8D. Online at https://www.nwaonline.com/news/2015/mar/22/margaux-isaksen-20150322-1/ (accessed April 12, 2023).
William H. Pruden III
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