No. 26 – What is a modern pentathlon?

Tuesday, Mar 6th 2012


As many of us are looking forward to Spring and considering the need to get our bodies into better shape, spare a thought for the modern pentathlete and the physical peak of bodily perfection and fitness to which they must strive.

The word ‘Pentathlon’ derives from the Greek word ‘pente’ meaning five and ‘athlon’ meaning contest – and that’s the clue – there are five different sports in the pentathlon. Today, it’s called the Modern Pentathlon to distinguish it from the ancient one which was based on the skills required to be a good soldier – fencing (fighting), shooting (fighting again), riding (horse skills), running and swimming.

The Modern Pentathlon consists of pistol shooting, fencing, 200 metres freestyle swimming, horse riding and a 3000 metre cross-country run.

This is the 100th year of the Modern Pentathlon and there will be subtle changes at this year’s Summer events. It will start with fencing with electric épees, then a 200 metre swim and then horse riding over a 12-jump course on an unfamiliar horse. The scores from these first 3 events will be amalgamated giving contestants a handicapped start to the next stage.

Then instead of separate shooting and running events, there will be a single combined shooting/running contest. They will need to run 3000 metres overall, interspersed with 3 sets of laser shooting 5 electronic targets. To leave the firing range they have to hit all 5 targets with an unlimited number of shots or after a time of 1 minute 10 seconds. Only then can they run the first of three 1000m legs. So it’s shoot, run, shoot, run, shoot, run and the first over the finishing line of the last 1000m leg wins.  Time for a lie down!

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