Modern Pentathlon – History, Rules and How to Play

Modern Pentathlon

For the average individual, competing in one event can give a nervous breakdown for a week, yet some athletes compete in a sport that is comprised of 5 events. The Modern Pentathlon, named after the Greek word pentathlon, which means a contest of five events, is a sport that is made up of 5 events – Fencing, Freestyle Swimming, Show Jumping, Pistol Shooting, and Cross Country running. The game is named Modern Pentathlon because even though it has its roots in the traditional pentathlon, it is quite different from the old sport.

Modern Pentathlon

The traditional pentathlon, which was a part of the ancient Olympics games, was comprised of Stadion Foot Race, Wrestling, Long Jump, Javelin and Discus Throw.

The Modern Pentathlon is governed by the Union Internationale de Pentathlon Moderne (UIPM) also known as International Modern Pentathlon Union, which was founded in London in 1948. Currently, the UIPM has its headquarters based at Monte-Carlo, Monaco and there are 115 member countries.

It organizes a World Championships for Modern pentathlon every year, since the inception of the tournament in 1949. It currently includes the Men’s and Women’s individual and team events, the relay events and a mixed relay event. The women’s event was introduced in the World Championships for the first time in 1981 and has been a part of the tournament since.

Modern Pentathlon was first introduced in the Olympics in 1912 and despite several attempts to remove it, the game is still an integral part of the Olympics. A women’s event was finally included in the 2000 Olympics.

History of Pentathlon

In ancient Olympic games, the traditional pentathlon was designed keeping in mind the skills required by the perfect Greek soldier of those times. The traditional pentathlon was eventually modified and tweaked to design it based on the skills generally required by the cavalry when stranded behind enemy lines. However, there lies a controversy regarding who deserves the credit for this development.

History of Pentathlon

The founder of modern Olympic Games, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, has claimed to be the father of Modern Pentathlon, while the President of the Organizing Committee of the 1912 Olympic games, Viktor Balck, has also tried to provide evidence that he had designed the Modern Pentathlon based on Swedish military sports.

Coubertin tried to recreate the adverse situations that a cavalry soldier might face if he is behind enemy lines. He has to ride an unfamiliar horse, he has to fight enemies with a sword, he has to shoot to survive, he has to swim and he has to run back to his troops.

The first Olympic Modern Pentathlon was won by Gosta Lillehook of Sweden. A team game was introduced in 1952 but was discontinued in the Olympic games of 1992.

Modern Pentathlon Rules

The game is governed by the following rules:

  • Participants are awarded points for individual performances in each event and the points are added to deduce the total score.
  • Whoever crosses the finish line first is declared the winner.

Modern Pentathlon is also governed by different rules for the 5 different events.

The rules for Fencing are as under:

Modern Pentathlon Rules

  • The epee cannot have a curve greater than 1cm.
  • Only the touches executed after the ‘play’ command and before the ‘stop’ commands are considered for points.
  • Players cannot pause in the middle of the sport to enquire about the time left, it might result in a penalty.
  • If a player participating in a fight does not start the bonus round, the opponent can move on to compete with the next participant.
  • The first participant who scores a hit wins instantly, however, if neither can hit within 1 minute, both of them lose.

The rules for swimming are as under:

rules for swimming

  • Participants have to swim 200 meters.
  • The walls of each end have to be touched for a turn to be considered valid.
  • Except for the first 15 meters, there should always be at least some portion of the player’s body above water at all times.
  • Without the referee’s permission, no one can enter or exit the swimming pool.
  • Any obstruction to an opponent, including pushing, is prohibited.

The rules for Show Jumping are as under:

rules for Show Jumping

  • Riders need to cover a distance of 350 to 450 meters, with 12 to 15 obstacles. Horses are chosen by a random draw 20 minutes before the event.
  • The proper dress code must be followed by all participants.
  • Players can only jump an obstacle after the start of the round or after the bells ring.
  • If the horse moves in the wrong direction or if it moves out of the competition court, the player will be disqualified.
  • Any ill-treatment towards the horse will lead to immediate disqualification.

The rules for Shooting and Cross Country Racing are as under:

rules for Shooting

  • Previously until 2009, the two events are separate, but right now, it is a combined event.
  • Each competitor has to hit five targets with a pistol and then run 800 meters. This is repeated four-time so that a competitor has run four 800 meter laps.
  • To stay in the sport, the player has to complete the race.
  • Any modification to the player’s starting number will lead to disqualification from the event.
  • No unauthorized assistance can be provided to fellow competitors, this will lead to elimination from the event.
  • Shooting the wrong target will lead to elimination from the event.
  • Unless the minimum shooting time is over, the player cannot start running again.
  • There is no obstruction to fellow participants allowed, this will lead to disqualification.
  • No exchange of pistols is allowed between participants during the event, this will also lead to disqualification.

How to Play Modern Pentathlon

To take part in the Modern Pentathlon, a person has to know Fencing, Swimming, Show Jumping, Shooting and must be acquainted with running.

For Fencing, one has to use the epee, which is the sword with which the participant has to touch the opponent. The whole body is a valid target, but touching with only the tip of the epee counts as a point. It is important to wear all the protective equipment before starting the game.

In Swimming, the participant can choose any swimming style but must adhere to it all through the event.


For Show Jumping, the participant gets 5 minutes to get acquainted with their horses before the start of the event. There is a fixed time limit to the event, so the rider has to be both grateful to earn the points, while also ensure that all the obstacles are jumped over. There will be at least one double jump and at least one triple jump.

For the combined sport of Shooting and Cross Country Race, the shooting is conducted indoors, and a 4.5 mm air pistol is used by the participants to shoot at fixed targets, which are placed at a distance of 10 meters. The participants are provided with 20 rounds to use in shooting and have a maximum time of 40 seconds to take their shots. The best 10 shots are taken into account for allocating points. The cross country race is generally run on a coarse public road and the athletes who complete the race within the stipulated time are awarded 1000 points.

Modern Pentathlon is a rigorous test of athletes all-around abilities and the participant with the most overall skills wins the game. It is a fascinating tournament of connecting one to the roots of survival and giving the participants a chance to get in touch with their instincts.

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