Pentathlon: history, competition rules, types of disciplines


In the article “Pentathlon” we will tell you about athletes in the 5th degree. You will get acquainted with the history of modern pentathlon and talk about the rules of the competition.

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No other Olympic discipline requires an athlete to develop as comprehensively as pentathlon. This sport is often referred to as the “pentathlon” in Greek, since the competition took place long before our era, back in the days of the ancient Olympic Games.

In those early days, the pentathlon included the following sports: running, discus throwing, javelin throwing, long jumping and wrestling. Athletes had to endure all these tests in one day. The competitions were held in a certain order and opened with jumps.

Modern historians cannot say with certainty how exactly the winner of the ancient pentathlon was determined. According to the most common version, athletes had to divide into pairs and compete in all five disciplines. The one who outperformed his rival in three disciplines would advance to the next round. Then the winners fought among themselves, and so on until a final pair remained.

Modern pentathletes also compete in five disciplines. These days, however, athletes are required to show greater versatility, because today this competition includes: fencing, swimming, show jumping (horseback riding), and the so-called “combine” (running + shooting). Running and shooting were combined only recently, in 2009.

Today’s pentathletes are required to have the most authentic combat training, and for good reason. The fact is that modern pentathlon competitions began in the 19th century in the form of the “officers’ pentathlon. Not surprisingly, this sporting complex reflected all aspects of officer training at the time.

Pavel Lednev
Pavel Lednev

In 1912 the officer pentathlon was included in the Summer Olympic Games. But until 1948 only athletes who had the rank of officer were allowed to compete, only later the pentathlon became available to all athletes.

Our athletes also contributed to the development of this challenging sport. A true legend of the Soviet pentathlon Pavel Lednev. Pavel Lednev won 7 Olympic awards (2 gold, 2 silver and 3 bronze), became 6-time world champion, won 3 European Cups.

No less famous are pentathletes Andrey Moiseev and Alexander Lesun. Andrey has 2 gold medals of the Olympic Games (2004, 2008) and 5 gold medals of the World Championships. Alexander became the Olympic champion in Rio de Janeiro (2016), and 4 times world and European champion.

Athletes have not only to train hard and long, but also to follow the changing rules of modern pentathlon, and they are supplemented quite often. The reason for this is to make the competitions even more spectacular.

Fencing in pentathlon
Fencing in pentathlon

Consider the history of the changes. Up until 1954, the winner was determined by the sum of places taken in each type of program. Now the system of standards is applied. For each type of competition, except for riding, set a standard of 250 points, and for show jumping 300 points. If a participant meets the standard, the norm of points is credited to him, and if he exceeds the norm he gets additional points. If the standard is not met, the points are deducted.

Changes have affected not only the way of determining the winner. Time of a duel in fencing is reduced from 3 minutes to 1 minute. In pentathlon, fencing resembles a conveyor belt. Competitions are held on 1 jab in a circular system, everyone meets everyone else. The first jab becomes the last jab, and the one who delivered it receives credit points.

Swimming in pentathlon
Swimming in pentathlon

Shooting and running, as we have already written, have been combined. Not only that, if earlier the athletes used conventional firearms, but since 2011 the pistols in pentathlon became laser. Changes also affected the show jumping. Its distance was reduced to 600 meters.

In swimming, a pentathlete must swim 200 meters freestyle, i.e. 4 times over a 50-meter pool. The 200 meter is a specific distance, too long for sprinters and too short for stayers. Pentathletes become sort of universal swimmers.

A draw determines the horses for the pentathletes. According to the rules, the athlete gets their four-legged partner just 20 minutes before the start and there’s very little time to establish contact with the horse, but they have to overcome difficult obstacles together.

Show jumping in pentathlon
Show jumping in pentathlon

A confident landing, a set of tricks by which the athlete checks how the horse reacts to his actions – these are the standard actions of a pentathlete. Coaches say that not only pentathletes, but also professional show jumpers have all these skills perfectly. That is, they have traditional techniques in their arsenal, but it takes experience and skill to use them competently.

The most difficult task in the pentathlon is considered a combine or as it is called “biathlon in sneakers”, running and shooting from a laser gun. You have to shoot standing on a stationary target from a distance of 10 meters. For a three-kilometer cross-country run, athletes shoot 4 series of shots (5 targets in a series). Only 50 seconds are given for each series, i.e. 10 seconds per target.

Combine in pentathlon
Combine in pentathlon

The use of laser pistols in pentathlon is made possible by one surprising property of the laser. Its beam hardly scatters at a distance. To achieve maximum accuracy in shooting, it is necessary to synchronize the operation of the target and the gun, i.e. to conduct regular calibrations.

Pentathletes are not just athletes, they are athletes in the 5th degree. They train in the 5 hardest disciplines at the same time and in each of them they manage to achieve impressive results and are as professional as the representatives of classical sports.

In many cities there are sections for modern pentathlon. Children are accepted into the section from the age of 9-10 years old. They deal with fencing, swimming, horseback riding, running, and marksmanship. Of course, the training plan is designed in such a way that all the skills are mastered one by one.

Pentathlon is a great way to become strong, enduring, develop great reactions, marksmanship, and coordination. Pentathlon is an ideal solution for those kids who want to try everything, and are not afraid that they will get bored with any one sport. Maybe in a couple of years D’Artagnan will envy your skills :)

Modern Pentathlon


The pentathlon is an Olympic all-around sport in which athletes compete in five disciplines: Fencing, Swimming, Jumping and the so-called "Combine" (Running + Shooting). In each discipline, a pentathlete can earn points by meeting a certain standard. The points earned in the disciplines are summed up in the final result, which determines the winner.

For each completed standard in pentathlon athlete gets 250 points, the exception is show jumping, for which he gets 300 points. For exceeding the standard, additional points are awarded, the exception is show jumping, in which only points are deducted. Tentative standard for the European and World Championships: Fencing (to win 25 bouts out of 35; +/- 1 victory = 6 points); Swimming (to swim 200 meters freestyle for 2,5 minutes; +/- 0,5 second = 1 point); Show jumping (to overcome 12 obstacles of 1,2 meters height; 7 points deducted for failure of an obstacle, horse's disobedience costs 10 points; penalty time + 1 second = minus 1 point); Combine (to cross 3,200 meters with shooting in 13 minutes and 20 seconds; +/- 1 second = 1 point).

The pentathlon is commonly referred to as "modern" to distinguish today's pentathlon from that of ancient times. The ancient pentathlon included sports (running, discus throwing, javelin throwing, long jumping and wrestling) that were necessary for the soldier defending the fortification, but in the 19th century, with the revival of the Olympics, the skills necessary for the soldier have changed significantly.

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