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.