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Modern Pentathlon

The climax of the Ancient Olympic Games was the pentathlon, a five-part event that included running the length of the stadium, jumping, throwing the spear, throwing the discus and wrestling. It was first introduced at the 18th Olympiad in 708 B.C. and held a position of unique importance, with the winner ranked as “Victor Ludorum”, meaning “the winner of the Games”.

The founder of the modern Olympic movement, Pierre de Coubertin, had great admiration for this multi-sport event and beginning in 1909 looked to re-introduce such an event to the Olympic program. The modern pentathlon debuted at the 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm, comprised of the contemporary disciplines of pistol shooting, fencing, swimming, riding a horse and running. The disciplines chosen represented the diverse attributes of a good military officer: fitness (running and swimming); control and concentration (shooting); agility and speed (fencing); and determination, adaptability and courage (riding and jumping with an unfamiliar horse).


In putting these five disciplines together, modern pentathlon became the only sport to be created for the modern Olympic Games. From its introduction at Stockholm 1912 until Moscow 1980, the competition was held over five days, with one event per day. From Los Angeles 1984 to Barcelona 1992, the competition was held over four days, with shooting on the same day as another discipline to discourage competitors from taking sedatives and beta blockers to steady their nerves before shooting. Beginning at Atlanta 1996 the competition became a one-day event. A women’s event was contested for the first time at Sydney 2000. Modern pentathlon was included at the first four Pan American Games, before being dropped from 1967 to 1983. It returned to the program in 1987.


Individual - Men and Women

The five disciplines and competition format of modern pentathlon are as follows:
1) Fencing
The fencing portion is contested as a round robin tournament, with each competitor facing every other competitor in one minute bouts using épée swords. The winner of a bout is the first competitor to score a single hit. If neither scores a hit then both competitors register a defeat. A competitor who wins 70 per cent of the bouts earns 250 pentathlon points. Every victory over or under the 70 per cent mark is worth a specific point value in accordance with the total number of competitors. A field of 36 athletes means that a competitor would have to record 25 victories to earn the full 250 points. Every victory over or under that mark is equal to plus or minus six points (ex: an athlete with 23 victories earns 238 points).
2) Swimming
Swimming in modern pentathlon is a 200m freestyle event. A time of two minutes 30 seconds earns 250 pentathlon points. Every 0.33 seconds over or under this time is worth minus or plus one point, thus the value of each second is three points. As an example, a time of 2:32.66 corresponds to 242 pentathlon points.
3) Riding
Riding in modern pentathlon is show jumping. Riders and horses will jump over a series of 12 obstacles (including one double jump and one triple jump) on a course that is 350-400 metres in length. Athletes compete on horses that are provided by the organizers and are selected by random draw. For preparation, athletes are allowed to ride their allocated horse for 20 minutes and to take up to five trial jumps in the warm-up area. Athletes are given a specific time limit in which to complete the course, which is set according to the length of the course. A clear round in the allotted time earns 300 pentathlon points. Each second over the time limit is equal to a deduction of one point. Points are also deducted for penalties including, for instance, seven points for knocking down an obstacle and 10 points if the horse refuses to jump an obstacle or if a rider falls off the horse.
4) Combined Event
Since 2008, the shooting and running disciplines have been combined into one event. Today the shooting is contested with lasers instead of the air pistols or .22 calibre pistols used in the past. Athletes begin with a staggered start, based on the points standing after the first three events. The leading athlete is the first to start. The rest of the field follows with a one second handicap for every one pentathlon point. From the start, the athletes run approximately 20m to the shooting range where they are required to hit five targets from a distance of 10m with an unlimited number of shots in a maximum time of 50 seconds. This is followed by an 800m run. This shoot-run sequence is repeated three more times for a total of four shooting series and a 3200m run. Because of the handicap start, the first athlete to cross the finish line at the end of the combined event is the overall winner of the modern pentathlon.

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