There are five events in the Modern Pentathlon: Swimming, Fencing, Showjumping, The Combined Event (Laser Pistol Shooting and Cross Country Running). All of these events are held in one action packed day!
The founder of the Modern Olympic Games, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, designed a unique Olympic sport so that the best all-around athlete in the world could be found. He picked the sports specifically so that all facets of a sports person would be tested. Swimming and Running are physically demanding. Shooting requires calmness, and precise technique, while Fencing tests adaptability, intelligence and reflexes. Riding an unknown horse requires courage, self control and skill.
The Day of the Competition – Five Event Format
Whilst organisers try to hold all events in close proximity, in reality there is a bit of driving between venues. Ideally the order of the events are: Fencing, Swimming, Riding, Combined Event (Shooting & Running). Each competitor gains points for elapsed swim time, fencing victories, and showjumping a clean course with little or no rail knockdowns and/or time penalties in the first 3 events. The Combined Event is then organised to commence on a handicap start with the competitor with the most points starting first, and other competitors then start on time handicaps depending on how many points they are behind the leader. First athlete past the finish line in the Combined Event is the overall winner.
Fencing – all competitors fence each other at least once in a “one hit” electric epee bout. The number of bouts depends on the number of competitors, but there are usually between 15 to 30 bouts. Each bout lasts for a maximum of 1 minute. Points are accumulated for each victory.
Swimming – The usual distance is 200m whilst Masters and the very young swim either 100m or 50m depending on age. Points are accumulated for the fastest time compared to a “notional standard time”.
Riding – Each competitor draws for a horse that they have never ridden before. They have an initial 20 minute warm-up and then compete in one lap of a 350m show jumping round. Competitors and horses jump between 8 to 12 obstacles and points are deducted for rail knock downs and time penalties.
The Combined Event – This is the exciting business-end of the day and an action packed fast paced event with all competitors handicapped ranked by points accumulated in the previous 3 events. The leading competitor starts first and all subsequent competitors are on a handicap time delay. They first run into the shooting range and shoot at the electronic target from a distance of 10 metres, which registers laser hits, 5 times. As soon as the target has been hit 5 times (or 50 seconds elapse) the competitors then leave the range for a 800m cross country run. They then return and repeat this 3 more times (for a total of 4 x 800m) with the final 800m being a race to the finish line and overall victory for the 5 events. First past the post is the winner! It seems simple but is deceptively hard with the heart pounding and breathing hard (the opposite of what is required for accurate shooting) and many runners get passed by other competitors who are more successful at shooting all 5 targets quickly. The lead can change quickly and many times much to the dismay and thrill of competitors!
At the end of the day the person who wins is not necessarily the best at any one sport but the person who is good at all 5 events and bad at none. It is a lot of fun and the main thing is to get in and give it a go – you may just surprise yourself!