Olympics A-Z

Olympics A-Z: History of Pentathlon at the mega event

Gaurav SinghGaurav Singh

July 12 2021
Pentathlon olympics
(Courtesy : uipm/teamusa/tutorialsport)

The sport has introduced a flurry of stars at the quadrennial event since 1912.

Pentathlon is a competition containing five events. It was started in 708 BC in Ancient Olympic Games. It’s name is derived by combining two Greek words pente (five) and Athlon (competition). The competition has a vivid history in ancient Greek mythology.

Many believe that Jason (an ancient Greek mythological hero) invented the sport. Pentathlon consists of five events, which are Long Jump, Javelin Throw, Discus Throw, Stadion (a short foot race) and Wrestling. It was believed that all these five events are very useful in war because it requires to be skilled and their training was often part of the military.

Over time, Pentathlon became more developed and famous. Some variations were also tried such as the inclusion of boxing or pankration instead of the Stadion race. 

Modern Olympics

In the modern era, the restoration of the Olympics saw the Pentathlon returning in a different style. The Summer Olympics of 1912 consisted of two types of the Pentathlon, first one was inspired by the ancient Olympic version of the sport. It comprised of Long Jump, Javelin Throw, 200m run, Discus Throw and a 1500m race. However, this format featured in the 1920 and 1924 Summer Olympics has discontinued afterwards.

The second type was called Modern Pentathlon. It was invented by Pierre de Coubertin, also known as the father of the Modern Olympics. He designed the modern version, keeping in mind the Ancient Olympic mythology of skills required by a soldier.

In the modern version, he included Epee Fencing, Pistol Shooting, Freestyle Swimming, Show Jumping on Horseback and a Cross Country Run. In it, all competitors score points based on their performance in each event and one with the highest tally is declared the winner. 

From 1912 Summer Olympics onwards, men’s competition has been held at every Olympics. After its great success women’s competition was also introduced in the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

Pentathlon Events and Rules

Pentathlon consists many events (Photo Credit- Reuters)

It includes five sports. All the sports are played in a day one after the another at regular intervals. The performance of an athlete in the first three events will consider the order for Shooting and Racing events.


It is the first event of the Pentathlon. In this, both the athletes compete with each other using a sword (Epee). Both the competitors wear protective gear. No one can strike an opponent before the command ‘Allez’ is screamed and after the command of ‘Halte’ is announced. Doing any kind of activity before or after the command will directly lead to a penalty.


In this freestyle Swimming race, athletes are allowed to swim underwater for the initial 15m. After that, they need to keep some of their bodies above the water surface. Athletes also need to touch the wall at the end of the pool and then turn back.

Show Jumping 

All athletes are provided with a horse 20 minutes before the start of the game through draws. The athlete needs to wear all protective gear and equipment. All the horses must need to stay within the court and the rider must treat their partner with respect. If there’s any sign of animal cruelty then the athlete is deemed disqualified. 

Shooting and Cross-Country Racing

Shooting is an important part of Pentathlon (Photo Credit- NY Times)

In this joint event, athletes get laser pistols to aim at the stationary object and after that, they need to run on the track. If an athlete is found blocking an opponent in any way that directly results in disqualification.

Pentathlon versions

As it was developed for testing the skills of a person required for war. This competition is organised by armies at various levels.

 Military and naval pentathlon

The skills required in modern Pentathlon such as Fencing and Horse Riding became less important by the mid of the 20th century. To make it more useful for army training, it was changed to Shooting, Obstacle Running, Obstacle Swimming, Throwing, and Cross-Country Running.

This sport is governed by the International Military Sports Council and it came into existence in 1950.

Aeronautical Pentathlon

Aeronautical Pentathlon also had the motive to train the soldiers according to the skills required. But this variant has six games instead of five i.e. shooting, fencing, orienteering, basketball, obstacle course and swimming. only Air force personnel can take part in this event. It started in 2010 during Military World Games.

There is also a different Pentathlon for the Paralympic athletes but the sports are varied according to their needs. It started during 2004 Summer Paralympics.  

Medal contenders

Valentin Prades

All eyes will be on Valentin Prades at Tokyo 2020 (Photo Credit- UIPM)

The Frenchman is considered the best modern-day pentathlete of this generation and his performances in the previous Olympics and world championships surely make him a strong contender for the medal.

Adam Marosi

The 36-year-old Hungarian is an experienced campaigner at this level. He won Bronze at the 2012 London Olympics. His extraordinary performances in the World Championship make him a strong challenger for the spot at the podium.

Laura Asadauskaite

The 37-year-old woman from Lithuania is surely looking to add one more Olympic medal to her name. Laura, who won the gold at the 2012 London Olympics, will surely be eager to repeat it this time. 

Interesting Trivia

  • The modern Pentathlon had always been the first Olympic sport to take place in the mega event till 1996. But later on, it was changed to the final event of the Olympics.
  • The Olympics of 1912 was the only time when the athletes were allowed to ride their horses in the riding event.

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