First Olympic Appearance: 1912 (men); 2000 (women)
by Mike Morrison
The modern pentathlon comprises five individual sports—shooting,
fencing, swimming, horse show jumping, and running.
Sounds like a pretty weird combination, huh?
Did You Know?
American George Patton (yes, that George Patton)
was a strong challenger for the modern pentathlon gold in 1912 but
faltered in the shooting competition.
As the story goes, a young French officer in Napoleon's army was sent
on an unfamiliar horse to deliver a message into hostile territory. He
was first greeted by an enemy soldier with his sword drawn. The two
dueled. The French officer won the duel and continued on his horse until
it was shot out from under him. He fired a shot with his pistol and
killed the enemy but his horse didn't make it. He swam across a river
and ran the rest of the way to deliver his message. When he arrived, his
commanding officer greeted him with, "What took you?"
The modern pentathlon used to be drawn out over anywhere from four to
six days. Beginning with the Atlanta games in 1996, it had been
condensed into one furious day of competition in the following order:
- Shooting In 40 seconds, each athlete uses an air pistol to
fire 20 shots at 20 targets from 10 meters away.
- Fencing Using an épée (a rapier with a
three-sided blade and guard over the tip), each competitor participates
in a round-robin series where he/she fights each competitor once. The
first to register a hit on their opponent wins, with each fight lasting
a maximum of one minute. If neither scores a hit in the match, they
- Swimming Pentathletes are divided into separate heats
depending on their previous times and each swim a 200-meter freestyle
race. It is important to note that they are actually racing against the
clock, not necessarily against each other.
- Show jumping Competitors are given horses chosen by a random
drawing. They are then given 20 minutes to familiarize themselves with
their horse. The competition consists of jumping twelve obstacles
(fifteen fences, some obstacles are pairs of fences) over a
350–450 meter course in a predetermined time limit.
- Running The final event is a 3,000-meter run, not on an oval
track, but rather on a twisting course laid out to resemble a
cross-country race. To increase drama, competitors start their race in
the order of their standing in the prior four events. Therefore, the
top three finishers in the running event are the gold, silver, and
bronze medal winners of the entire modern pentathlon competition.