Modern pentathlon

Modern pentathlon
Modern Pentathlon 2004 Olympics.jpg
Conclusion of the men's event at the 2004 Summer Olympics
Highest governing bodyUnion Internationale de Pentathlon Moderne (UIPM)
TypeFencing, swimming, show jumping, shooting, and running sport

The modern pentathlon is an Olympic sport that comprises five different events; fencing (one-touch épée), freestyle swimming (200 m), equestrian show jumping (15 jumps), and a final combined event of pistol shooting and cross country running (3200 m). This last event is now referred to as the laser-run, since it alternates four legs of laser pistol shooting followed by an 800 m run (for 3200 m in total). The event is inspired by the traditional pentathlon held during the ancient Olympics; as the original events were patterned on the skills needed by an ideal Greek soldier of the era, the modern pentathlon is similarly patterned on events representing the skills needed by cavalry behind enemy lines.

The sport has been a core sport of the Olympic Games since 1912 despite attempts to remove it.[1] A world championships for modern pentathlon has been held annually since 1949.

Originally, the competition took place over four or five days; in 1996, a one-day format was adopted in an effort to be more audience-friendly.[2] Modern pentathlon, despite its long Olympic history, has had to justify its inclusion in the modern Olympic Games several times. On February 11, 2013 in Lausanne, the IOC confirmed modern pentathlon once again as one of the 25 core sports of the Olympic program through to 2020. The governing body, Union Internationale de Pentathlon Moderne (UIPM), administers the international sport in more than 90 countries.[1]


The foundation of the modern pentathlon is disputed. On the one hand, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympic Games, claimed authorship.[2] On the other hand, Viktor Balck, the President of the Organizing Committee for the 1912 Games, showed that he made use of the long tradition of Swedish military multi-sports events, to create a manageable modern pentathlon.[3]

The name derives from the Greek péntathlon "contest of five events".[2] The addition of modern to the name distinguishes it from the original pentathlon of the ancient Olympic Games, which consisted of the stadion foot race, wrestling, long jump, javelin, and discus. As the events of the ancient pentathlon were modeled after the skills of the ideal soldier to defend a fortification of that time, Coubertin created the contest to simulate the experience of a 19th-century cavalry soldier behind enemy lines: he must ride an unfamiliar horse, fight enemies with pistol and sword, swim, and run to return to his own soldiers.[2] In the 1912 Games as only officers competed, the competitors were permitted to use their own horses. Up to the 1952 Olympics the ordinary cavalry soldier was considered a professional athlete, as he was riding and training horses for a living, while the officer was the amateur. As long as there was no official international federation for Modern Pentathlon an IOC committee was set up for the sport making use of the expertise of IOC members.[4]

The event was first held at the 1912 Olympic Games, and was won by Swedish athlete Gösta Lilliehöök. The modern pentathlon has been on the Olympic program continuously since 1912. A team event was added to the Olympic Games in 1952 and discontinued in 1992. After much lobby work of the President of the German Modern Pentathlon Federation Prof. Wilhelm Henze, women were for the first time admitted at the World Championships in 1977, and at the official world championships in 1981.[5] An event for women was added to the Olympic Games in 2000.[2] A World Championship is held every year. The competitions include Men and Women's Individual and Team event together with relay events for Men and Women and, since 2010, a mixed relay event.

Competition format

Athletes gain points for their performance in each event and scores are combined to give the overall total. In the modern pentathlon, starting times for the last event (cross country running before 2009; combined laser pistol shooting and cross-country running since 2009),[6] are staggered so that the first person to cross the finish line is the winner. Before the last event competitors are ranked according to their score from the other disciplines and given start times accordingly, with the leader going first. The first person to cross the finish line, therefore, is the overall points leader and wins the pentathlon.

  • The fencing discipline uses the épée. The competition is a round-robin, meaning each competitor will face all the other competitors once. Each match lasts up to one minute; the first fencer to score a hit wins instantly. Double hits are not counted. If neither scores within one minute, they both lose the match.
  • The swimming discipline is a 200 m freestyle race. Until the 2000 Olympics, the distance was 300 metres.[7] Competitors are seeded in heats according to their fastest time over the distance.
  • The riding discipline involves show jumping over a 350–450 m course with 12 to 15 obstacles. Competitors are paired with horses in a draw 20 minutes before the start of the event.[Note 1] To ensure fairness for all athletes, all horses which participate have successfully completed the set course. This segment has received criticism for being perceived as being a lottery should an athlete draw an un-cooperative horse;[8] others argue that most incidents of horses refusing to jump are result of poor rider ability on the part of the athlete and adopting behaviour which unsettles the horse.
  • The laser-run is a combination of the running and shooting events so that each competitor ran four 800m laps, each preceded by hitting five targets with a pistol. In each of the four rounds of firing, athletes have to successfully shoot five targets, loading the laser gun after each shot. They resume running once they have five successful hits, or once the maximum shooting time of 50 seconds has expired. Misses are not penalised.[2][9] The current format maintains the principle that the overall winner will be the first to cross the finish line.[2]

Until 2009, the shooting discipline involved firing a 4.5 mm (.177 cal) air pistol in the standing position from 10 metres distance at a stationary target. The format was that of the 10 metre air pistol competition: each competitor had 20 shots, with 40 seconds allowed for each shot. Beginning with the Rancho Mirage World Cup (Feb 2011), the pistols changed to a laser instead of an actual projectile. There is a slight delay between the trigger pull and the laser firing, simulating the time it would take for a pellet to clear the muzzle.[10]

The running discipline involved a 3 km cross-country race until 2009 when it was combined with the shooting event. From the start of the 2013 season, the laser-run was changed again to consist of four 800m laps each preceded by laser shooting at five targets. This change was intended to restore some of the importance of the shooting skill felt to have been lost in the original 2009 combined event. Until the 2000 Olympics, the distance was 4 kilometres.[7]

The laser-run has been criticized as altering too radically the nature of the skills required. The New York Times asked whether the name ought to be changed to "tetrathlon" given that two of the five disciplines had been combined into a single event.[2]


The riding discipline attracted criticism during the 2020 Summer Olympics after multiple athletes in the women's event struggled to control their randomly assigned horses.[11][12] This culminated in the German team's Coach, Kim Raisner, being removed from the event after allegedly striking a horse with her fist.[13][14]
UIPM officials have announced that they will review the incident and that changes to format will be in force by the time of the 2024 Summer Olympics.[15]

See also


  1. ^ a b "Special Edition: Refuting IOC's Plan to End Modern Pentathlon Competition". The Sport Journal. Fall 2002. Archived from the original on 2012-06-05. Retrieved 2012-08-22.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Branch, John (November 26, 2008). "Modern Pentathlon Gets a Little Less Penta". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-11-27.
  3. ^ Sandra Heck: Von Spielenden Soldaten und kämpfenden Athleten. Die Genese des Modernen Fünfkampfes. Göttingen: V & R Unipress. 2013, ISBN 978-3-8471-0201-4
  4. ^ Arnd Krüger: Forgotten Decisions. The IOC on the Eve of World War I, in: Olympika 6 (1997), 85 – 98. (
  5. ^ Uta Engels: "Now the Problem: Modern Pentathlon for Ladies." Zur Rolle Prof. Dr. Peter-Wilhem Henzes bei der Entwicklung des Modernen Frauenfünfkampfes, in: Arnd Krüger & Bernd Wedemeyer (eds.): Aus Biographien Sportgeschichte lernen. Festschrift zum 90. Geburtstag von Prof. Dr. Wilhelm Henze. Hoya: Niedersächsisches Institut für Sportgeschichte 2000, S. 47 -66. ISBN 3-932423-07-0
  6. ^ Pentathlon change irks Livingston, BBC, 24 November 2008
  7. ^ a b "Modern Pentathlon". 'Good Luck Beijing'. 2007-03-10. Archived from the original on 2008-10-06. Retrieved 2008-11-27.
  8. ^ "German modern pentathlon coach thrown out of Olympics for punching horse". The Guardian. 7 August 2021. Retrieved 2021-08-07.
  9. ^ "Rules for Combined Event Running and Shooting" (PDF). UIPM. Retrieved 2012-08-12.[permanent dead link]
  10. ^ "Can Lasers Save the Modern Pentathlon?". 2012-08-12.
  11. ^ "Stubborn horse costs Schleu a shot at modern pentathlon gold". AP NEWS. 2021-08-06. Retrieved 2021-08-06.
  12. ^ "Tokyo 2020: Heartbreak for Coyle in modern pentathlon". 2021-08-06. Retrieved 2021-08-06.
  13. ^ "Tokyo Olympics: German pentathlon coach thrown out for punching horse". BBC Sport. BBC. Retrieved 7 August 2021.
  14. ^ "German coach kicked out of Olympics for punching a horse". NBC News. 2021-08-07. Retrieved 2021-08-07.
  15. ^ Cooper, Sam (2021-08-10). "World pentathlon authorities are launching a 'full review' after the tumultuous show-jumping event at the Tokyo Olympics". Insider. Retrieved 2021-08-11.
  1. ^ This unusual skill—the riding of a random horse is also used in the US for college equestrian team competitions and in club IEA horse back riding.

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