Modern pentathlon has been on the Olympic program since the 1912 Stockholm Games. The sport was created by French baron Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympic movement, and combines five events, originally held over two days though more recently it is held over just one day.
The five events combine all of the aspects of traditional combat: mastery of the sword, precision marksmanship, ability to control cavalry both in the confines of the arena and in the cross-country, and the physical stamina to cross many miles of both land and water.
After a horse abuse controversy at the 2021 Games in Tokyo, the horse riding component of the event has been replaced with an obstacle course challenge.
The current Modern Pentathlon events are:
- Swimming - 200m swim, with points allocated depending on the time
- Obstacle Course
- Combined running and shooting event - The leading competitor starts first, with the rest following at times depending on their current point score. It is a 3200m race (four laps of 800m) is with four shooting stops, where the competitor shoots with a laser pistol at a target 10m away. The first athlete to cross the finish line wins gold.
- Modern pentathlon has been on every Olympic program since 1912.
- A men's team event was held from 1952 - 1992
- 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 spectator-friendly.
- A women's event was added to the program in 2000.
- Until the 2000 Olympics, the distance of the running event was 4 km.
- The horse riding component was replaced with an obstacle course for 2028.
- The Modern Pentathlon is the only sport created specifically for the modern Olympic Games.
- At the first event in 1912, only officers competed, and they were permitted to use their own horses.
- George Patton, who went on to become US General George C Patton, was 5th in the modern pentathlon at the 1912 Olympic Games. Ironically, his shooting performance let him down.
- In 1924, American Robert LeGendre shattered the world long jump record with a leap of 25 feet, four inches, but did not win gold in that event. His record leap was part of the pentathlon competition and LeGendre only finished 3rd in the actual long jump competition.
- In 1936, US competitor Charles Leonard became the first in the event's history to achieve a perfect score of 200 in the shooting
- In 1952, Swedish pentathlete Lars Hall became the first civilian Olympic champion in modern pentathlon.
- A very elaborate ruse was staged by Ukrainian athlete Boris Onischenko in 1976. For the fencing event, he wired his sword so that he could trigger the electronic scoring system with his hand and register a hit at will.
- For the 2012 Modern Pentathlon event, pistols were replaced with laser guns. It was also the first Olympic Games in which the modern pentathlon running and shooting events were combined - athletes completed three rounds of shooting each followed by a 1 km run.
- The 2020 Tokyo modern pentathlon event was marred by controversy, as the coach of a German contestant in the equestrian component was seen to punch an uncooperative horse.
- In Mexico City 1968, Swedish pentathlete Hans-Grunner Liljenwall was the first to be disqualified for drug use, having tested positive for excessive alcohol (more firsts).
- The best all-time performing Modern Pentathlete at the Olympic Games is Hungarian András Balczó who won 3 gold and 2 silver between 1960–1972. No other athlete has won three gold medals. See more on the Greatest Modern Pentathlete at the Olympics.
- US athlete Sheila Taormina competed in the Modern Pentathlon in 2008, making her the first woman to qualify for the Olympics in three different sports (swimming, triathlon and modern pentathlon).
The name modern pentathlon was used to distinguish it from the Pentathlon, which was an ancient Greek athletics event consisting of five competitions each representing techniques useful in battle. (more about ancient Olympic events)
The five events of the ancient Pentathlon were:
- Long Jump - like modern triple jump, using weights as a counterbalance
- Javelin - A leather strap was used to throw the javelin
- Discus - five throws, furthest wins
- Wrestling - same rules as the modern equivalent
- Stadion - a short sprint foot race of about 180 meters, the winner was the champion of the game
- Pentathlon was an event at the ancient Olympic Games
- There was an athletics pentathlon event held from 1906 till 1924.
- See more about the Olympic Games individual sports of Fencing, Swimming, Shooting, Equestrian and Athletics
- See more on the Greatest Modern Pentathlete at the Olympics.
- Olympic Sports involving animals
- List of Olympic Sports