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What is Modern Pentathlon?

The modern pentathlon is an Olympic sport that comprises five events: The sport has been a core sport of the Olympic Games since 1912 and since 1949 an annual World Championship has been held.

The Modern Pentathlon was invented by Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympic Games. The name derives from the Greek pente- "five" and -athlon "contest". The addition of modern to the name distinguished 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 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 with pistol and sword, swim, and run.

History of Modern Pentathlon

The event was first held at the 1912 Olympic Games and has been on the Olympic program continuously since 1912. A team event was added to the Olympic Games in 1952 and discontinued in 1992. An event for women was added in 2000. A World Championship is held every year. The competitions include Men and Women's Individual and Team event together with relay events for Men and Women and, since 2010, a mixed relay event.

Except for the fencing competition, athletes do not directly compete against one another in the five events. Athletes gain points for their performance in each event and scores are combined to give the overall total. This is similar to the procedure for the decathlon in track and field athletics. However, an innovation was introduced to make the finale of the pentathlon more exciting. The last event is the Combined event: laser pistol shooting and cross-country running. Competitors are ranked according to their score from the first three disciplines and given start times accordingly, with the leader going first, and other starting times being dependent on the number of points already scored. The first person to cross the finish line, therefore, will be the overall points leader and win the pentathlon. This method of finishing the competition would also eventually find use in winter events; the Gundersen method details a means by which a similar finish is achieved in the Nordic combined.

The Events

The fencing discipline uses the epee. The competition is a round-robin, meaning each competitor will face all the other competitors once. Each match lasts up to one minute; the first fencer to score a hit wins instantly. Double hits are not counted. If neither scores within one minute, they both lose the match.

The swimming discipline is a 200 m freestyle race. Competitors are seeded in heats according to their fastest time over the distance.

The riding discipline involves show jumping over a 350-450 m course with 12 to 15 obstacles. Competitors are paired with horses in a draw 20 minutes before the start of the event. This unusual skill - the riding of a horse that is previously unknown to the rider - is unique in the world of sport and is one of the elements which gives Modern Pentathlon its special character.

The Combined event consists of running four 800m laps each prefaced by laser shooting at five targets from 10 meters. The Combined event is similar to the biathlon at the Winter Olympic Games, which combines cross-country skiing with rifle shooting. However, whereas biathletes carry their rifles while skiing, pentathletes will not carry their pistols while running. The change 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. However, its effect in making the conclusion of the 2012 Olympic event so exciting has convinced the world that it is a valid solution and the five constituent events are still equally demanding and distinct from each other.
In the new format, in each of the four rounds of firing, athletes have to successfully shoot five targets, loading the gun after each shot. They may resume running once they have five successful hits, or once the maximum shooting time of 50 seconds has expired. Misses are not penalized. The new format maintains the principle that the overall winner will be the first to cross the finish line.

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