London 2012: Modern pentathlon at the Olympics explained

Modern pentathlon is unique as the only sport created by the founder of the modern Olympics specifically for its inclusion in the Games.

However, the sport's Olympic status has been repeatedly threatened in recent years.

The International Olympic Committee has twice recommended its exclusion, in 2002 and 2005, saying the sport is not truly global, has high operational costs and generates little media coverage.

But pentathlon was granted a royal pardon of sorts, with Princess Anne and Prince Albert of Monaco among those IOC members who voted to keep an event that has been described as the "sport that most accurately conveys the ideals of Olympism".

The retention of modern pentathlon is great news for Britain, whose female pentathletes have won nearly half of the medals available since the women's event made its Olympic debut in 2000.

Why is it good for you?

Modern pentathlon's wide-ranging challenge saw it voted into the top 10 of Forbes magazine's list of the healthiest sports.external-link Thousands of calories can be burned in a day's competition.

Fencing is great for all-round fitness, muscle toning, building core strength, coordination and balance. Due to the need for lightning fast decisions, it is also excellent for concentration and focus.

An hour's riding burns about 120 calories at walking pace, 360 calories at trotting pace and 480 at galloping pace. Although it may seem that the horse is receiving all the exercise, this equates to the calories lost in a 30-minute jog or cycle ride carried out at a similar speed.

Strength, stamina, hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills are improved in the shoot. Running helps lower blood pressure through strengthening the heart, builds stamina, burns extra calories, improves bone density and tones muscles.

Swimming aides the healthy functioning of the heart, lungs and circulatory systems. It works all the muscles in the body due to the effort of staying afloat in water.

Get involved

For those wanting to get startedexternal-link in England, Northern Ireland or Wales, find the appropriate home country or regional contactexternal-link on the Pentathlon GB website. For people in Scotland, a list of affiliated clubs can be found on the Pentathlon-Scotland website.external-link

You do not have to take part in all disciplines to take part in modern pentathlon events. The Modern Pentathlon Association arranges events for just two disciplines, run and swim (biathlon and biathle) through to competitions involving all five disciplines.

A list of training events and competitionsexternal-link and an introductory videoexternal-link can be found on the Pentathlon GB website.

At development training sessions you should be able to borrow equipment in order to allow you to participate, although there may be a small charge to cover maintenance and replacement.

To compete in the United Kingdom, you have to become a member of Pentathlon GBexternal-link or Pentathlon-Scotland.external-link

For beginners, Pentathlon GB offers a 'First Steps' programme which includes free access to taster sessions and competitions within schools or clubs.

More on the Pentathlon GB websiteexternal-link

Want to get involved with sport in your local community? Why not Join In ?

'Join In Local Sport'external-link aims to get as many people as possible to turn up and take part in activities at their local sports facilities on 18/19 August, 2012 - the first weekend between the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

The aim of the initiative is for every sports club and community group in the UK to put on a special event in a bid to encourage more people to get involved as members, supporters or volunteers.

More than 4,000 local sports clubs will be opening their doors to host events and show people just how they can get involved.

As well as tips on playing sport there will be information on coaching, supporting and how to help out.

Find an eventexternal-link near you.

The competition format at London 2012

  • On Saturday 11 and Sunday 12 August, 72 athletes (36 men, 36 women) will compete in the Copper Box (fencing), Aquatics Centre (swimming) and Greenwich Park (riding, combined run/shoot).
  • Modern pentathlon is made up of four events: fencing, swimming, riding and a combined run/shoot.
  • The medals are decided by the finishing places in the concluding run/shoot.
  • The whole competition takes place in a single day.

More on the London 2012 websiteexternal-link

The rules at London 2012

Competitors must first fence against every other athlete before moving on to swim 200m freestyle, and then ride a horse over a 12-jump course.

After the first three disciplines, the athletes' total scores are converted into a time handicap which determines the starting times for the combined run/shoot element.

During this, athletes are required to shoot at a set of five targets within 70 seconds, then run 1,000m, three times. The winner of the competition is the athlete who crosses the finish line first.

Originally the competition took place over four or five days, but a one-day format was adopted in 1996 in an effort to be more audience-friendly.

A more radical and controversial change followed in 2009 when the running and shooting disciplines were merged: athletes have three bouts of shooting, each followed by a 1000m run.

In the fencing, the athletes use the epée sword. An athlete scores 1,000 points for winning 70% of his/her bouts, with each win above or below the 70% mark scoring +/- 24 points.

In the swimming, athletes are seeded into different heats dependant on their personal-best times recorded in the previous year. A time of 2:30 scores 1,000 points, with each 0.33 seconds above or below this time scoring +/- four points.

In the riding, the athletes start with 1,200 points and lose 20 points for each jump they knock down, 40 points for a refusal to jump or disobedience, and 60 points for a fall. Four points are deducted for each second they are over the allotted time.

More on the Team GB websiteexternal-link

Ones to watch

There is a world champion in the Team GB ranks: Mhairi Spence won global gold in May, with team-mate Samantha Murray earning bronze.

The pair will be desperate to maintain the record by Britain's female pentathletes of winning medals at every Olympics since the women's event was introduced in 2000.

Germany's Olympic champion Lena Schöneborn and triple world champion Amélie Cazé of France, back from long-term injury, are consistently strong.

For the men, Russia's Andrei Moiseev is bidding for a hat-trick of Olympic titles; compatriot and world champion Aleksander Lesun is the likeliest to deny him.


The pentathlon has changed considerably since it was the climax of the Games in Ancient Greece, when it consisted of running, jumping, spear throwing, discus and wrestling.

The modern pentathlon was introduced by Baron de Coubertin at the Stockholm Games in 1912, comprising pistol shooting, fencing, swimming, horse riding and running.

Pierre de Coubertin invented the five-discipline sport from the romantic vision of a soldier sent on horseback to deliver a message. Along the way, the soldier is forced to dismount and fight a duel with swords before felling another enemy with a single shot, swimming across a river, and then running the rest of the way to complete his mission.

The sport has been included in every Olympics since 1912, when Lieutenant George S. Patton - later to become a famous US World War II general - controversially missed out on a medal because of a modest shooting score.

The holes in his paper target were so large that Patton maintained some of his other bullets passed through them, but the judges ruled against him.

In the shooting at London 2012, a laser pistol will replace the traditional pellet-firing air gun for the first time

More on the IOC websiteexternal-link