Rules of the Game: What is modern pentathlon?

This Olympic event has athletes fencing, swimming, target shooting and more.

PARIS, France — Inspired by the traditional pentathlon of the ancient Olympic Games, the modern pentathlon is an all-around competition that tests athletes on their skills across five challenging and somewhat obscure sports.

The event was introduced to the modern Olympics in 1912 and has been on the Olympic program since, with significant evolution over the years.

Here's what to know about this Olympic event you'll see at the Paris Games this summer.

What is modern pentathlon?

The name comes from Greek, meaning "contest of five events."

Modern pentathlon comprises five different disciplines: swimming, fencing, horse riding, pistol shooting and running.

The competition is split into two sections. In the first section, athletes begin with two rounds of fencing, a 200-meter freestyle swim, and an equestrian show jumping obstacle course where the athlete rides a horse completely new to them. Horses are assigned by a name draw just 20 minutes before the athletes compete.

For the second round, athletes are ranked and staggered by their scores from the first round. The final event is a race called the laser run that combines running and shooting at targets. The first person across the finish line wins gold.

rules of the game: what is modern pentathlon?
rules of the game: what is modern pentathlon?
Credit: AP Annika Schleu of Germany cries after she couldn't control her horse in the equestrian portion of the modern pentathlon at the 2020 Summer Olympics.

Modern pentathlon changes

The format of the modern pentathlon has evolved throughout the years. The equestrian section was once a cross-country race but was changed to show jumping in 1988. A team event was added in 1957 and dropped in 1992. The women's event was added in 2000.

More changes are coming in the near future: Paris will be the last Olympics where the sport includes the equestrian event. The sport was initially dropped from the 2028 Olympics lineup, but will take place with horse riding replaced with obstacle racing.

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