History of Modern Pentathlon

The Pentathlon had a unique importance in the ancient Olympic Games, with the event considered to be the climax of the Games. Modern Pentathlon was introduced at the 5th Olympiad of the modern Olympic Games at Stockholm (Sweden) in 1912 – encouraged by the French founder of the modern Olympics, Baron Pierre De Coubertin.

The sport has continued to evolve to become a fast-paced event with all five disciplines now contested in one day. The women’s event was added to the Olympic programme at the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000. In Australia the governing body is Modern Pentathlon Australia, acknowledged by the international governing body, Union Internationale de Pentathlon Moderne (UIPM). UIPM is recognised by the International Olympic Committee (IOC). Learn more below.






Ancient Olympic Games

The Pentathlon was introduced for the first time at the 18th Olympiad in 708 BC and held a position of unique importance in the Games. The first pentathlon consisted of running the length of the stadium, jumping, throwing the spear, throwing the discus and wrestling. It was considered to be the climax, with the winner ranked as “Victor Ludorum”.

Modern History

Admiration for the Ancient Pentathlon was fully shared by the founder of the Modern Olympic Games, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, and from 1909 he tried to have the event re-introduced into the Olympic programme. Pentathlon’s moment came two years later at the 14th session of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in Budapest (HUN) when, as the Baron stated:

“the Holy Ghost of sport illuminated my colleagues and they accepted a competition to which I attach great importance”.

Modern Pentathlon was introduced at the 5th Olympiad in Stockholm (SWE) 1912, comprising the contemporary sports of pistol shooting, fencing, swimming, horse riding and running, which embraced the spirit of its ancient counterpart.

It was De Coubertin’s belief that it would be this event, above all others, that “tested a man’s moral qualities as much as his physical resources and skills, producing thereby the ideal, complete athlete.”

This new sport was enthusiastically adopted with its inherent demands of courage, co-ordination, physical fitness, self-discipline and flexibility in ever changing circumstances. A young American Lieutenant, later to be the famous World War II General, George S. Patton, was to finish fifth in the first ever Olympic Modern Pentathlon competition. The mixture of physical and mental skills demanded in the Pentathlon has also meant that athletes have been able to compete in as many as three or four Olympic Games. This is because while running and swimming times can be expected to decline with age, experience and skill in the technical disciplines often increase. The oldest Olympic gold medallist (in the teams event) in the Modern Pentathlon to date is Pavel Lednev (former USSR) who was 37 years old at the 1980 Games in Moscow. In the same Olympic Games the individual gold medallist (former USSR) Anatoly Starostin was just 20.

From 1912 until London 1948, the event was only for individuals. During that time, the Swedes dominated by winning six of the seven gold medals and 15 out of the possible 21 medals awarded.

In Helsinki 1952, a three-man team event was added to the individual event. Both events were contested until the team event was dropped after Barcelona 1992. Atlanta 1996 saw the sport change from a five day event to all components taking place on one day.

A women’s event was introduced at Sydney in 2000, with Kitty Chiller representing Australia. At the London Olympics in 2012 the running and shooting disciplines were combined with this final event determining the final placings.

Today, both men and women compete in all five events of the one day. A points system for each event is based on a standard performance earning 1000 points. The combined event (running and laser shooting) is with a handicap start meaning the winner of the competition is the first athlete to cross the finish line.