The modern pentathlon is a sports contest that includes five events: pistol shooting, fencing, 200 m freestyle swimming, show jumping, and a 3600 m cross-country run.1 Since 1949 an annual World Championship has been held. Until 2000 it was only held in non-Olympic years but since 2000 has been held every year.
Originally the competition took place over four or five days; however in 1996 a one-day format was adopted in an effort to be more audience-friendly.1 In the past,its lack of widespread popularity outside Europe led to calls for its removal from the Olympic Games from some quarters. However, it was confirmed once again by the IOC as one of the core sports in the Olympic Games early in 2013 and the governing body, UIPM, administers the international sport in more than 90 countries in all the continents of the world;2
The modern pentathlon was invented by Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympic Games.1 The name derives from the Greek penta- "five" and -athlon "contest".1 The addition of modern to the name distinguished 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 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 with pistol and sword, swim, and run.1
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. An event for women was added in 2000.1 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.
Except for the fencing competition, athletes do not directly compete against one another in the five events. Instead, a better absolute performance results in a higher points score; points for each event are combined to give the overall total scores. This is similar to the procedure for the decathlon in track and field athletics. However, an innovation was introduced to make the finale of the pentathlon more exciting. The last event is the cross-country run. Competitors are ranked according to their score from the first four disciplines and given different start times, with the leader going first, and other starts staggered by points differential such that the first person to cross the finish line will be the overall points leader and win the pentathlon. This method of finishing the competition would also eventually find use in winter events; the Gundersen method details a means by which a similar finish is achieved in the Nordic combined.citation needed
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 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. This unusual skill - the riding of a horse that is previously unknown to the rider - is unique in the world of sport and is one of the elements which gives Modern Pentathlon its special character.
Until 2009, the shooting discipline involved using a 4.5 mm 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. In 2009 the combined event was born. This involved a combination of the running and shooting events so that each competitor ran three 1000 m laps, each prefaced by hitting five targets with a pistol. 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.4
The running discipline involved a 3 km cross-country race until 2009 when it combined with the shooting event. From the start of the 2013 season, the combined event has changed again to consist of four 800m laps each prefaced by laser shooting at five targets. This change is 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.3
The combined event is similar to the biathlon at the Winter Olympic Games, which combines cross-country skiing with rifle shooting. However, whereas biathletes carry their rifles while skiing, pentathletes will not carry their pistols while running. The change 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.1 However, its effect in making the conclusion of the 2012 Olympic event so exciting has convinced the world that it is a valid solution and the five constituent events are still equally demanding and distinct from each other.
In the new format, in each of the three rounds of firing, athletes have to successfully shoot five targets, loading the gun after each shot. They may resume running once they have five successful hits, or once the maximum shooting time of 50 seconds has expired. Misses are not penalised.15 The new format maintains the principle that the overall winner will be the first to cross the finish line.1
- List of Olympic medalists in modern pentathlon
- Modern pentathlon at the Summer Olympics
- World Modern Pentathlon Championships
- Branch, John (November 26, 2008). "Modern Pentathlon Gets a Little Less Penta". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-11-27. The current sport combines the shooting and running phases into an exciting combined conclusion to the competition.
- "Special Edition: Refuting IOC's Plan to End Modern Pentathlon Competition". The Sport Journal. Fall, 2002. Retrieved 2012-08-22.
- "Modern Pentathlon". 'Good Luck Beijing'. 2007-03-10. Retrieved 2008-11-27.
- "Can Lasers Save the Modern Pentathlon?". 2012-08-12.
- "Rules for Combined Event Running and Shooting". UIPM. Retrieved 2012-08-12.
Andy Archibald: Modern Pentathlon - A Centenary History: 1912-2012. Grosvenor House Publishing, Guildford 2012, ISBN 978-1-78148-756-3.