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

The modern pentathlon is an Olympic sport that comprises five different events; fencing (one-touch épée), freestyle swimming (200 m), equestrian show jumping, and a final combined event of pistol shooting and cross country running (3200 m). This last event is now referred to as the laser-run, since it alternates four legs of laser pistol shooting followed by an 800 m run (for 3200 m in total). The event is inspired by the traditional pentathlon held during the ancient Olympics.

The sport has been a core sport of the Olympic Games since the 1912 Summer Olympics in Stockholm despite several attempts to remove it.[1] A world championships for modern pentathlon has been held annually since 1949.

The governing body, Union Internationale de Pentathlon Moderne (UIPM), administers the international sport in more than 90 countries.[1]



The foundation of the modern pentathlon is disputed. On the one hand, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympic Games, claimed authorship.[2] On the other hand, Viktor Balck, the President of the Organizing Committee for the 1912 Games, showed that he made use of the long tradition of Swedish military multi-sports events, to create a manageable modern pentathlon.[3]

The name derives from the Greek péntathlon "contest of five events".[2] 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. 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.[2] Originally, only amateur competitors, i.e. upper-class cavalry officers, were allowed to compete in the modern pentathlon at the Olympics. 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.

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.[4] The governing body, Union Internationale de Pentathlon Moderne (UIPM) was founded in 1948.

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.[5]

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. An event for women was added to the Olympic Games in 2000.[2]

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.[2] 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 an condensed format of 90 minutes with eliminations is planned.[6]

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

See also: Modern pentathlon at the Youth Olympic Games

International Competitions

A world championship is 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.

See also: World Modern Pentathlon Championships

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

See also: Modern Pentathlon World Cup

Competition format

Athletes gain points for their performance in each event and scores are combined to give the overall total. In the modern pentathlon, starting times for the last event (cross country running before 2009; combined laser pistol shooting and cross-country running since 2009),[7] are staggered so that the first person to cross the finish line is the winner. Before the last event competitors are ranked according to their score from the other disciplines and given start times accordingly, with the leader going first. The first person to cross the finish line, therefore, is the overall points leader and wins the pentathlon.

Events of modern pentathlon

Changes to modern pentathlon since 1912

Modern pentathlon has been the subject of numerous changes since the 1980s with its place on the Olympic programme in question several times.[9]

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.[10] This scoring was first used in the 1956 Summer Olympics.[11] The five disciplines were held on a single day — instead of four to six — from the 1996 Summer Olympics onwards.[2]

See also: Modern pentathlon at the Summer Olympics


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 — not 200 metres.[11]


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. Riding in modern pentathlon has received criticism for being perceived as being a lottery should an athlete draw an un-cooperative horse.[12] Others argue that most incidents of horses refusing to jump are result of poor rider ability on the part of the athlete and adopting behaviour which unsettles the horse.[citation needed]


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.

Beginning with the World Cup events in 2011, laser pistols were used instead of pistols with actual projectiles.[13] 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.[14] Air pistols with laser transmitters were introduced during the transitional period and are still in use.[15] Purpose-built laser pistols are developed and commonly used since the middle of the 2010s. Laser pistols and targets have to be homologated by the UIPM.[16]


Until the 2000 Olympics, the running distance was 4 kilometres.[11] The running discipline was shortened to a 3 km cross-country run afterwards.

In 2009 running was cominded with the shooting event: three 1000 m laps with each preceded by laser shooting at five targets in 70 seconds or less.[17] From the start of the 2013 season, the laser-run was changed again to consist of four 800 m laps each preceded by laser shooting at five targets in 50 seconds or less. Thus, the distance was slightly increased to 3,2 kilometres.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.


The switch to a one-day format in the 1990s was critised for changing the steady character of modern pentathlon to a more fast-paced competition.[18]

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.[2]

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.[19][20] This culminated in the German team's Coach, Kim Raisner, being removed from the event after allegedly striking a horse with her fist.[21][22] UIPM officials have chosen to remove the horse riding portion of the event, the replacement sport has yet to be announced.[23] They hope to keep modern pentathlon in the Olympic program.[24] Following the decision to remove horse riding, more than 650 modern pentathletes signed a letter calling for the UIPM executive board to resign.[25]

See also


  1. ^ a b "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.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Branch, John (November 26, 2008). "Modern Pentathlon Gets a Little Less Penta". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-11-27.
  3. ^ Sandra Heck (2013). Von Spielenden Soldaten und kämpfenden Athleten. Die Genese des Modernen Fünfkampfes. Göttingen: V & R Unipress. ISBN 978-3-8471-0201-4.
  4. ^ Arnd Krüger: Forgotten Decisions. The IOC on the Eve of World War I, in: Olympika 6 (1997), 85 – 98. (
  5. ^ 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
  6. ^ UIPM (2020-12-07). "Paris 2024: UIPM welcomes IOC support for new Modern Pentathlon format". Retrieved 2021-01-27.
  7. ^ Pentathlon change irks Livingston, BBC, 24 November 2008
  8. ^ "Rules for Combined Event Running and Shooting" (PDF). UIPM. Retrieved 2012-08-12.[permanent dead link]
  9. ^ Andy Bull (2021-11-03). "Modern pentathlon was at risk long before a horse was punched. How to update it?". Retrieved 2021-11-29.
  10. ^ "Modern Pentathlon at the 1956 Melbourne Summer Games". Olympics at Archived from the original on 2020-04-17. Retrieved 2021-12-13.
  11. ^ a b c "Modern Pentathlon". 'Good Luck Beijing'. 2007-03-10. Archived from the original on 2008-10-06. Retrieved 2008-11-27.
  12. ^ "German modern pentathlon coach thrown out of Olympics for punching horse". The Guardian. 7 August 2021. Retrieved 2021-08-07.
  13. ^ Mike Rowbottom (2011-04-11). "Mike Rowbottom: British pentathletes adapt to lasers in quest for Olympic gold". Retrieved 2021-12-06.
  14. ^ "Can Lasers Save the Modern Pentathlon?". 2012-08-12.
  15. ^ "Lasers Make Modern Pentathlon More Modern". 2012-11-08. Retrieved 2021-12-13.
  16. ^ "UIPM HOMOLOGATED EQUIPMENT". Retrieved 2021-11-29.
  17. ^ Mike Rowbottom (2011-07-29). "Exclusive: Laser shooting problems have turned modern pentathlon into a lottery, claims Weale". Retrieved 2021-12-13.
  18. ^ "Das Ende des Modernen Fünfkampfs in Warendorf". Retrieved 2021-11-29.
  19. ^ "Stubborn horse costs Schleu a shot at modern pentathlon gold". AP NEWS. 2021-08-06. Retrieved 2021-08-06.
  20. ^ "Tokyo 2020: Heartbreak for Coyle in modern pentathlon". 2021-08-06. Retrieved 2021-08-06.
  21. ^ "Tokyo Olympics: German pentathlon coach thrown out for punching horse". BBC Sport. BBC. Retrieved 7 August 2021.
  22. ^ "German coach kicked out of Olympics for punching a horse". NBC News. 2021-08-07. Retrieved 2021-08-07.
  23. ^ "UIPM opens consultation on replacement of Riding discipline in Modern Pentathlon". Union Internationale de Pentathlon Moderne (UIPM). 4 November 2021. Retrieved 7 November 2021.
  24. ^ Pereles, Zachary (2021-11-02). "Modern pentathlon will no longer include horse riding following horse-punching incident at Tokyo Games". CBS Olympics. CBS. Retrieved 2021-11-02.
  25. ^ "UIPM to meet athletes seeking board resignation over horse riding axe". Reuters. 6 November 2021. Retrieved 6 January 2022.
  1. ^ This unusual skill — the riding of a random horse — is also used e.g. in the United States of America for college equestrian team competitions and in club IEA horse back riding.

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