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While the pentathlon itself dates back to ancient Greece and included running, jumping, javelin, discus and wrestling; the pentathlon that is part of the Summer Olympics today has three very modern sports in comparison.

The pentathlon (both ancient and modern) are based on military discipline of the time. The ancient one was used by the Spartans as a method for training soldiers. The modern version is similar and was inspired similarly. Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the Modern Olympics saw the pentathlon as a way to "help world relations, insure peace, if soldiers could participate in friendly competition." He failed at having the ancient pentathlon added but later succeeded with the modern pentathlon. The modern pentathlon has been used at a number of military academies as part of the final examination.

The modern pentathlon was first held at the Stockholm Games in 1912 and included five events:

  1. Shooting
  2. Fencing
  3. Swimming
  4. Riding
  5. Running

Women were introduced to the modern pentathlon in the Sydney 2000 Olympics.

This sport has classically been dominated by the Swiss and the only person to give them a run for their money in the first half of the century was by a U.S. army lieutenant named George Patton (unfortunately he didn't place (finished 5th) because he scored very poorly in comparison on the shooting event).

Originally the scoring for the pentathlon was determined by the placement of an athlete in each event (I assume lowest sum of the of the placements took the gold, second lowest silver, etc...). After 1956 the event became more similar to that of the decathlon with a point scale for each event.

An air pistol at 10 meters, 20 shots slow fire. Shooting 172 is worth 1000 points. Each point above or below 172 is 12 points. The target is 8"x11" with 11 concentric rings. The outermost ring is worth 1 point and the inner two most rings are worth 10 points. Bullseyes are used to separate ties.
Epee event in a round robin. The 1000 point score is obtained for winning 70% of the possible bouts. Each victory above or below the 70% mark is worth 28 points in individual and 12 points for team relay. There is a minimum number of 20 bouts.
200 meters freestyle. A time of 2:30 for men and 2:40 for women receives 1000 points. Each third of a second is worth 4 points.
15 obstacles over 400 meter course. The riding event has a 1200 point maximum. Each athlete starts with 1100 points and penalties of knocking down a fence (-30), refusing a jump (-40) and fall (-60) are deducted from this. A jump out of order, backwards or failing to cross a checkpoint (start line, finish line or gate) will eliminate the rider. Each second over or under 2:18 is worth 3 points. It is important to note that the horses are unfamiliar ones to the athletes though they have 20 minutes and 5 practices fences to get acquainted with the horse.
3000 meters cross-country (see 3000 meter run). The start is staggered such that the first person to cross the finish line is the winner overall. For men a time of 10:00 receives 1000 points and for women the time is 11:20. Each half a second is worth 2 points.

It should be noted that the age range on the modern pentathlon is fairly wide compared to that of many other sports. This sport contains events that are both physically demanding (running and swimming), however also put a great deal of emphasis upon mental skill with shooting, riding and fencing. Athletes often compete in three or four Olympics - a range of 12 to 16 years.

At the Olympics, between 1912 and 1980, the pentathlon was held over 5 days with one event each day. Between 1984 and 1992 shooting was doubled up with either running or swimming. In 1996 the entire competition was a grueling one-day event. On non-Olympic years, the World Championship is held.

A variant of the Pentathlon exists which contains only swimming and running (known as the summer biathlon):

  1. Running 1,400 meters
  2. Swimming 100 meters
  3. Running 100 meters
This was created as a more interesting spectator sport and removing the emphasis from the European nature of fencing and riding. This sport was created in 1999.


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