What’s the deal?
The ancient pentathlon was the inspiration for this sport, which modern Olympics founder Baron Pierre de Coubertin himself championed. The ancient sport tested skills needed to be a soldier. Modern pentathlon updated those skills for the (then) modern-day cavalry soldier. The sport tests body and mind in five different disciplines –fencing, swimming, horse riding, running and shooting–that take place over the course of two days.
Day one starts off with a qualifying round of epee fencing. There are two rounds of competition, a ranking round and (new for 2016!) a bonus round. In the ranking round, athletes have to fence every other competitor in a one-point (touch) game. If no one scores a touch within 45 seconds, both lose. The bonus round starts with the last-place finisher going against the second-to-last in the same type one-point game. The winner faces the third-to-last, and so on. You get an extra point for every game you win in the bonus round.
On day two, competitors move on to swimming, where they race in a 200m freestyle, and get points based on their finishing time.
Then competitors go back to fencing and finish up that competition.
Next, competitors saddle up on an unfamiliar horse and after a 20-minute getting-to-know-you session, have to get it to jump over 12 obstacles on a 350m-400m course in a set amount of time.
Finally, competitors do a combined running and shooting event, where they run four 800m laps, interspersed with 4 rounds of laser pistol shooting. The shooting target is 10m away, and competitors either have to hit it five times or wait until 50 seconds is up before they can continue with their run. Since starting slots are based on points at the end of the first three rounds, the first one to cross the finish line wins.
Men and women compete in individual events.
Why should I watch?
This might be one of the most bizarre–and completely awesome–sports out there. Just wrap your brain around it for a minute: You have to know how to fence. And swim. AND GET ON A STRANGE HORSE AND MAKE IT JUMP OVER THINGS. And run and shoot. And do all of this well. De Coubertin’s concept was to produce “the ideal complete athlete,” and that happens in a way that some of the other multi-discipline sports just can’t manage. You really do have to use your brain in this sport–fencing is like physical chess. Swimming is physically intense. Being able to shoot a gun–even if it is a laser gun–after running is incredibly difficult to do accurately. And have we mentioned that you’ve got to not only be able to jump on a horse, but you have to figure out how to get a horse you don’t know to do what you want it to (you know, like soldiers who were sent out quickly and had to hop on the first horse they could get). And you’re doing this all in one day, so you have to be able to pace yourself well.
Unfortunately, coverage of modern pentathlon tends to be slim, and you generally get some sort of quick recap of the day. That makes it really difficult to comprehend the challenges of the sport, but it’s really cool to watch. Modern pentathlon is also one of the sports that’s sometimes been on the chopping block for trimming the Olympic program. Check it out and decided for yourself if it should continue to be an Olympic sport.
Potential drinking game:
If anyone drops out of the rest of the competition, drink.
The perfect snack:
Take 5 candy bar
Union International de Pentathlon Moderne (UIPM) is the international governing body for the sport.
We know there are referees/judges/officials for this sport, but we’re trying to figure out how someone gets involved in that aspect of the sport. We’ll keep you posted!