Modern pentathlon
Conclusion of the men's event at the 2004 Summer Olympics
Highest governing bodyUnion Internationale de Pentathlon Moderne (UIPM)
TypeFencing, swimming, show jumping, shooting, and running sport
OlympicPart of Summer Olympic programme since 1912

The modern pentathlon is an Olympic sport consisting of fencing (one-touch épée), freestyle swimming, equestrian show jumping, pistol shooting, and cross country running. The event was first held in 1912, inspired by the traditional pentathlon held during the ancient Olympics, and designed to model skills needed by a soldier of that time. As well as being an Olympic event, a world championships has been held annually since 1949.

The rules of the modern pentathlon have changed several times since its creation over the years, including condensing the event down into a single day. The latest structure, as of the 2024 Olympics, consists of separate events for fencing, swimming, and equestrian, which earn the athletes points to determine each athlete's starting time in the final event. The last event, called the laser-run, alternates four legs of laser pistol shooting and running.

Modern pentathlon's inclusion in the Olympics has frequently been criticised for being obscure, unpopular, and complex. The 2028 Olympics initially removed modern pentathlon from its events, but has been reinstated with a changed format where obstacle racing replaces the equestrian event.

The governing body, Union Internationale de Pentathlon Moderne (UIPM), administers the international sport in more than 90 countries.


The format of the modern pentathlon has changed frequently through the sport's history. Described below is the format that will be used in the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris:[1][2]



Most sources state that the creator of the modern pentathlon was Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympic Games.[3][4][5][6] However, researcher Sandra Heck concluded that Viktor Balck, the President of the Organizing Committee for the 1912 Games, made use of the long tradition of Swedish military multi-sports events to create the modern pentathlon.[7] In addition, in the Olympic games of the year 1912, athletes from countries on all continents competed.[8]

The name derives from the Greek péntathlon "contest of five events".[3] The addition of modern to the name distinguishes it from the original pentathlon of the ancient Olympic Games, which consisted of the stadion foot race, wrestling, long jump, javelin, and discus. And the location of the first Olympic Games was Olympia during 776 BCE.[9] As the events of the ancient pentathlon were modeled after the skills of the ideal soldier to defend a fortification of that time, Coubertin created the contest to simulate the experience of a 19th-century cavalry soldier behind enemy lines: he must ride an unfamiliar horse, fight enemies with pistol and sword, swim, and run to return to his own soldiers.[3] Originally, only amateur competitors, i.e. upper-class cavalry officers, were allowed to compete in the modern pentathlon at the Olympics. Specifically, for a decade after the year 1890, athletic competitions for amateurs began to develop in many different places.[8] In the 1912 Games, as only amateur officers competed, the competitors were permitted to use their own horses. Up to the 1952 Olympics the ordinary cavalry soldier was considered a professional athlete, as he was riding and training horses for a living, and as such unable to participate, while the officer was considered the amateur and therefore allowed to compete.

Olympic Games

The event was first held at the 1912 Olympic Games and has been on the Olympic program continuously since 1912. Modern pentathlon, despite its long Olympic history, has had to justify its inclusion in the modern Olympic Games several times. On February 11, 2013, in Lausanne, the IOC confirmed modern pentathlon once again as one of the 25 core sports of the Olympic program through to 2020.

A team event was added to the Olympic Games in 1952 and discontinued in 1992. In 1997, the United States was given a gold medal for a winning a competition in an event of the modern pentathlon.[10] An event for women was added to the Olympic Games in 2000.[3] There was a gold medal award given to Britain during the Olympics of the year 2006 in Athens, Greece.[11]

Originally, the competition took place over four or five days. In 1996, a one-day format was adopted in an effort to be more audience-friendly.[3] The switch to a one-day format was criticised for changing the steady character of modern pentathlon to a more fast-paced competition.[12] To enhance the experience for spectators, the UIPM proposed that all five events should be held in a single venue. This was planned for the 2016 Summer Olympics but held for the first time at the 2020 Summer Olympics. For the 2024 Summer Olympics, a condensed format of 90 minutes with eliminations is planned.[13] The initial program for the 2028 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles does not include the modern pentathlon while the sport finalises its replacement of showjumping, but it could be added at a later date.[14]

Modern pentathlon is also part of the Youth Olympic Games since 2010.

Modern pentathlon's inclusion in the Summer Olympics has frequently been criticised for being obscure, unpopular, and complex, especially as the IOC limits each Summer Olympics to 28 disciplines.[6][15]


As long as there was no official international federation for Modern Pentathlon an IOC committee was set up for the sport making use of the expertise of IOC members.[16] The governing body, Union Internationale de Pentathlon Moderne (UIPM) was founded in 1948.

International competitions

This article needs to be updated. The reason given is: Possibly out of date - was written before the Covid pandemic. Please help update this article to reflect recent events or newly available information. (May 2022)

A world championship has been held every year since 1949. The competitions include men and women's individual and team events together with relay events for men and women and, since 2010, a mixed relay event. After much lobby work of the president of the German Modern Pentathlon Federation, Wilhelm Henze, women were for the first time admitted at the world championships in 1977, and at the official world championships in 1981.[17]

The Modern Pentathlon World Cup is an annual series of modern pentathlon competitions. It was first held in 1999.

Format changes over time

Modern pentathlon has been the subject of numerous changes since its creation.[4]


In 2015 — and for the first time in the 2016 Summer Olympics — a system of an additional bonus round was added to épée fencing in international competitions. Before that, there was only the round-robin format.


Until the 2000 Olympics, the distance for swimming was 300 metres; at that time it was changed to 200 metres.[18]


The distance of the cross-country riding event was reduced from 5 km to 4 km in 1972. For the 1988 Summer Olympics cross-country riding was changed to show jumping.

Shooting and running

From 1912 to 1988 regular pistols or later sport pistols were used for shooting. From 1989 until 2009, the shooting discipline involved firing a 4.5 mm (.177 cal) air pistol in the standing position from 10 metres distance at a stationary target. The format was that of the 10 metre air pistol competition: each competitor had 20 shots, with 40 seconds allowed for each shot.[citation needed] Beginning with the World Cup events in 2011, laser pistols were used instead of pistols with actual projectiles.[19] There is a slight delay between the trigger pull and the laser firing, simulating the time it would take for a pellet to clear the muzzle.[20] Air pistols with laser transmitters were introduced during the transitional period and are still in use.[21] Purpose-built laser pistols are developed and commonly used since the middle of the 2010s. Laser pistols and targets have to be certified by the UIPM.[22]

Until the 2000 Olympics, the running distance was 4 kilometres.[18] The running discipline was shortened to a 3 km cross-country run afterwards.[citation needed]

In 2009, the running and shooting events were combined into three 1000 m laps with each preceded by laser shooting at five targets in 70 seconds or less.[23][24] From the start of the 2013 season, the laser-run was changed to consist of four 800 m laps (increasing the distance to 3.2 kilometres) each preceded by laser shooting at five targets in 50 seconds or less. This change was intended to restore some of the importance of the shooting skill felt to have been lost in the original 2009 combined event.[citation needed]

The laser-run has been criticized as altering too radically the nature of the skills required. The New York Times asked whether the name ought to be changed to "tetrathlon" given that two of the five disciplines had been combined into a single event.[3]

Overall scoring and operation

Scoring was originally done by a points-for-place system with the lowest score winning. Since the 1954 World Cup points tables are used for each of the five events and points are added for the final score.[25] This scoring was first used in the 1956 Summer Olympics.[18] The five disciplines were held on a single day — instead of four to six — from the 1996 Summer Olympics onwards.[3] In the 2024 Olympics, the event – other than the fencing ranking round – will all take place within 90 minutes.[26]

Replacement of riding with obstacle course racing

The riding discipline attracted criticism during the 2020 Summer Olympics after multiple athletes in the women's event struggled to control their randomly-assigned horses.[27][28] This culminated in the German team's coach, Kim Raisner, being removed from the event after striking a horse with her fist.[29][30] Following the Games, in November 2021 it was reported that the UIPM was opening consultations on the proposed replacement of riding with another discipline.[31][32] The decision was ratified during the UIPM's Congress on 27 November 2021, with the changes intended to be implemented for the 2028 Summer Olympics.[33] The UIPM voted for the change without consulting athletes, claiming force majeure.[34]

The decision was met with criticism from various athletes and bodies, who considered riding to be integral to modern pentathlon. Some also accused the UIPM of hindering debate in favor of riding during the congress.[33] More than 650 modern pentathletes signed a letter calling for the UIPM executive board to resign in November 2021.[35] A group known as "Pentathlon United" called for the IOC to investigate the UIPM's governance, and proposed a plan to maintain riding with rule changes to bring them in line with those of the International Federation for Equestrian Sports (FEI), and a focus on animal welfare.[36]

In May 2022, the UIPM announced it would hold an obstacle racing test event alongside the 2022 Modern Pentathlon World Cup final in Ankara, citing that it had received the most support out of the over 60 disciplines proposed, was more cost-effective, would help make the event more attractive to a younger audience, and was "compatible with the DNA of modern pentathlon". The competition course was developed with input from World Obstacle, and the event featured a mix of athletes from both the obstacle racing and modern pentathlon communities.[36][37] The UIPM also entered into a collaboration agreement with Tokyo Broadcasting System Television (TBS) to use a Ninja Warrior obstacle course.[38]

On 9 July 2022, Pentathlon United shared a survey of 213 responses from 40 countries, with 68.5% being current athletes, that indicated more than 92% of current modern pentathlon participants wanted to preserve the equestrian discipline as part of the sport. The group stated, "A total of 74.18% chose the reformed version of equestrian, which puts horse welfare among the central themes, while concern over the cost and accessibility of the equestrian discipline is also acknowledged in the 16-point plan." Of those polled, only athletes from the United Kingdom showed any support for an obstacle race, with athletes from the United States overwhelmingly voting for a reformed version of equestrian sport.[39]

In November 2022, the UIPM Congress voted 69–11 in favor of replacing riding with obstacle course racing; an associated motion established that the changes would take effect for junior competition in 2023. Its implementation at the senior level is unlikely to occur until after the 2024 Summer Olympics.[40]

On 22 June 2023, the UIPM shared a poll of 1,500 Americans by YouGov that they commissioned in support of their decision to replace riding with obstacle course racing, citing that the survey showed that "45% of Gen Z and 41% of Millennials more likely to watch the Olympics on television if it featured a ninja-style obstacle race...taken as a percentage of the U.S. population, this would equate to nearly 45 million more people watching the Games". The UIPM also stated, "More than two-thirds (37%) of survey respondents said they would be more likely to watch the new-look Modern Pentathlon at the Olympic Games, and 46% of those cited enjoying ninja-style obstacle races as the reason, with 34% describing the reason for their answer: 'I think the Modern Pentathlon needs to embrace change'." The article also indirectly referenced the popular TV show American Ninja Warrior.[41][42]

See also


  1. ^ "Modern Pentathlon". Retrieved 10 March 2024.
  2. ^ NBC Olympics (6 April 2021). "Modern Pentathlon 101: Competition format". Retrieved 2022-05-04.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Branch, John (November 26, 2008). "Modern Pentathlon Gets a Little Less Penta". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 2009-03-10. Retrieved 2008-11-27.
  4. ^ a b Bull, Andy (2021-11-03). "Modern pentathlon was at risk long before a horse was punched. How to update it?". Retrieved 2021-11-29.
  5. ^ "ON-Modern pentathlon at the Tokyo Olympics". Reuters. 2021-06-22. Retrieved 2022-05-05.
  6. ^ a b Helfers, Edward (2012-08-09). "The Glorious Irrelevance of Modern Pentathlon". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2022-05-05.
  7. ^ Heck, Sandra (2013). Von Spielenden Soldaten und kämpfenden Athleten. Die Genese des Modernen Fünfkampfes. Göttingen: V & R Unipress. ISBN 978-3-8471-0201-4.
  8. ^ a b Auerbach, Michael P. (2022). Summer Olympic sports. Salem Press Encyclopedia.
  9. ^ Campbell, Josephine (2023). Olympics. Salem Press Encyclopedia.
  10. ^ "United States Wins Gold Medal". New York Times. October 1, 1997.
  11. ^ Mackay, Duncan (November 20, 2006). "Modern pentathlon: Silver medal joy for British trio as Poland take gold". The Guardian.
  12. ^ "Das Ende des Modernen Fünfkampfs in Warendorf". Retrieved 2021-11-29.
  13. ^ UIPM (2020-12-07). "Paris 2024: UIPM welcomes IOC support for new Modern Pentathlon format". Retrieved 2021-01-27.
  14. ^ "Three sports dropped from LA 2028". BBC Sport. Retrieved 2023-08-17.
  15. ^ "Special Edition: Refuting IOC's Plan to End Modern Pentathlon Competition". The Sport Journal. Fall 2002. Archived from the original on 2012-06-05. Retrieved 2012-08-22.
  16. ^ Arnd Krüger: Forgotten Decisions. The IOC on the Eve of World War I, in: Olympika 6 (1997), 85 – 98. (
  17. ^ Uta Engels: "Now the Problem: Modern Pentathlon for Ladies." Zur Rolle Prof. Dr. Peter-Wilhem Henzes bei der Entwicklung des Modernen Frauenfünfkampfes, in: Arnd Krüger & Bernd Wedemeyer (eds.): Aus Biographien Sportgeschichte lernen. Festschrift zum 90. Geburtstag von Prof. Dr. Wilhelm Henze. Hoya: Niedersächsisches Institut für Sportgeschichte 2000, S. 47–66. ISBN 3-932423-07-0
  18. ^ a b c "Modern Pentathlon". 'Good Luck Beijing'. 2007-03-10. Archived from the original on 2008-10-06. Retrieved 2008-11-27.
  19. ^ Rowbottom, Mike (2011-04-11). "Mike Rowbottom: British pentathletes adapt to lasers in quest for Olympic gold". Retrieved 2021-12-06.
  20. ^ "Can Lasers Save the Modern Pentathlon?". 2012-08-12.
  21. ^ Wasef, Basem (2012-11-08). "Lasers Make Modern Pentathlon More Modern". Wired. Retrieved 2021-12-13.
  22. ^ "UIPM HOMOLOGATED EQUIPMENT". 29 July 2016. Retrieved 2021-11-29.
  23. ^ Pentathlon change irks Livingston, BBC, 24 November 2008
  24. ^ Rowbottom, Mike (2011-07-29). "Exclusive: Laser shooting problems have turned modern pentathlon into a lottery, claims Weale". Retrieved 2021-12-13.
  25. ^ "Modern Pentathlon at the 1956 Melbourne Summer Games". Olympics at Archived from the original on 2020-04-17. Retrieved 2021-12-13.
  26. ^ Rowbottom, Mike (27 April 2021). "New modern pentathlon format for Paris 2024 gets thumbs up at final test event". Inside the Games. Retrieved 2024-03-10.
  27. ^ "Stubborn horse costs Schleu a shot at modern pentathlon gold". AP NEWS. 2021-08-06. Retrieved 2021-08-06.
  28. ^ "Tokyo 2020: Heartbreak for Coyle in modern pentathlon". 2021-08-06. Retrieved 2021-08-06.
  29. ^ "Tokyo Olympics: German pentathlon coach thrown out for punching horse". BBC Sport. Retrieved 7 August 2021.
  30. ^ "German coach kicked out of Olympics for punching a horse". NBC News. 2021-08-07. Retrieved 2021-08-07.
  31. ^ "UIPM opens consultation on replacement of Riding discipline in Modern Pentathlon". Union Internationale de Pentathlon Moderne (UIPM). 4 November 2021. Retrieved 7 November 2021.
  32. ^ "Modern pentathlon votes to ditch horse riding after Tokyo Olympic turmoil". the Guardian. 2021-11-02. Retrieved 2022-06-28.
  33. ^ a b "Removal of riding from modern pentathlon approved at UIPM Congress". 27 November 2021. Retrieved 2022-06-28.
  34. ^ Houston, Michael (10 June 2022). "UIPM holds meeting with athletes as modern pentathlon fifth discipline clashes continue". Inside the Games. Retrieved 22 December 2023.
  35. ^ "UIPM to meet athletes seeking board resignation over horse riding axe". Reuters. 6 November 2021. Retrieved 6 January 2022.
  36. ^ a b "UIPM set to hold obstacle test event but campaign to preserve riding continues". 26 June 2022. Retrieved 2022-06-28.
  37. ^ "Obstacle racing to be tested in modern pentathlon". BBC Sport. Retrieved 2022-05-05.
  38. ^ Lloyd, Owen (28 June 2022). "'Ninja Warrior' set used in first UIPM obstacle test event as winners crowned in Ankara". Inside the Games. Retrieved 22 December 2023.
  39. ^ Lloyd, Owen (9 July 2022). "Exclusive: More than 92 per cent of modern pentathletes want equestrian discipline preserved, according to survey". Inside the Games. Retrieved 22 December 2023.
  40. ^ "UIPM Congress votes for obstacle racing to be new modern pentathlon discipline". 2022-11-12. Retrieved 2023-07-12.
  41. ^ "Modern Pentathlon With Obstacle Will Boost Popularity of Olympic Games, According to U.S. Public Survey". UIPM World Pentathlon. 22 June 2023. Retrieved 22 December 2023.
  42. ^ "Modern pentathlon votes to swap horse riding with 'American Ninja Warrior' type obstacles". CBC. Retrieved 22 December 2023.
  1. ^ This unusual skill — the riding of a random horse — is also used for example in the United States of America for college equestrian team competitions and in club IEA horse back riding.[citation needed]

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