What is modern pentathlon?

The modern pentathlon is a sports contest consisting of five events. The word pentathlon is derived from the Greek root pente, meaning five. The events are epee fencing, pistol shooting, 200 m freestyle swimming, a show jumping course on horseback, and a cross-country run. The modern pentathlon is different from the ancient athletics pentathlon – none of the events of modern pentathlon were part of the ancient Olympics.


Modern pentathlon


The modern pentathlon was invented by Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympic Games. As the events of the ancient pentathlon were modeled after the skills of the ideal soldier of that time, Coubertin felt that the modern pentathlon contest must 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.

The modern pentathlon has been on the Olympic program continuously since its inception in 1912. A team event was added to the Olympic Games in 1952 and discontinued in 1992. An event for women was added in 2000. In non-Olympic years, a World Championship is held.


Pentathlon is the only event created specifically for the modern Olympic Games. Originally the competition took place over four or five days; however in 1996 a one-day format was adopted in an effort to improve the event’s commercial image. Since Pentathlon doesn’t enjoy much popularity outside of Eastern Europe, there has been calls for its removal from the Olympic games in recent years. However, the IOC on July 8, 2005 voted to keep it in the Olympic Program at least till 2012. The sport is governed by the Union Internationale de Pentathlon Moderne (UIPM).

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