PENTATHLON sport rules title

OBJECTIVE OF PENTATHLON: Be the first to cross the finish line in a race after competing in multiple different events throughout the course of a day.

NUMBER OF PLAYERS: No set amount (36 for the 2020 Olympics)

MATERIALS: Fencing equipment, swimming equipment, show jumping equipment, shooting equipment, cross country/running equipment




The pentathlon, most commonly referred to as the “modern pentathlon,” is an Olympic event that involves a field of athletes competing in five different sports across four different events. These events include fencing, swimming, (horse) riding, and a combined shooting and running event. What makes this sport so unique is that all of these events take place on a single day.

The original “ancient pentathlon” originated in Ancient Greece during the original Olympic Games. Competitors would compete in five different events across the course of a day: a short-distance run, long jump, discus throw, javelin throw, and wrestling. This highly demanding competition was used for military training, as it was thought these events closely resembled the skills needed in battle.

The modern pentathlon competition has been held as an Olympic event since 1912. The sport’s revival can be attributed to the founder of the International Olympic Committee, Pierre de Coubertin. As his mission was to revive the Ancient Greek tradition, Coubertin took inspiration from the original Olympic events when organizing the modern Olympics. At one point a team event was added in 1952 but was later removed in 1996.

Unfortunately, the pentathlon is a relatively obscure and unpopular event, especially at the modern Olympic games. It is one of the least popular Olympic sports in terms of attendance and TV audiences. This has led to repeated attempts to remove the event from the program, although the sport’s historical roots are likely the reason why it still remains to this day.



Since the pentathlon consists of four vastly different events, a long checklist of equipment is necessary to compete.

  • Fencing Equipment: Fencers use a blunted épée as a sword and must wear the necessary protective equipment, such as a jacket, mask, gloves, etc.
  • Swimming Equipment: Athletes must wear appropriate swimming clothing, including a swimming cap and goggles.
  • Show/Horse Riding Equipment: For this part of the event, competitors require a saddle, reins, stirrup, and other gear needed to control the horse and protect them as a rider.
  • Shooting Equipment: Pentathletes must use specialized laser pistols as part of their final race.
  • Cross Country/Running Equipment: Traditional lightweight clothing and proper footwear is recommended for the final moderate-distance race.



As its name suggests, the pentathlon consists of five different sports. However, these sports are organized into only four separate events, as two (running and shooting) are combined into a single final event.

All of these events generally take place on the same day. For the 2020 Olympics, however, the first round of fencing took place a day before the rest of the events.

1) Fencing

  • Competitors compete in a round-robin format, with each competitor fencing every other competitor a single time.
  • Each fencing bout is a minute long.
  • The first fencer to land a hit on their opponent wins the bout.
  • If neither fencer lands a hit in the one-minute bout, both are given a loss.
  • A bonus round takes place after the round-robin ends, with the lowest-scoring competitor taking on the next lowest-scoring competitor. The loser is eliminated from the round, and the winner faces the next lowest-scoring competitor, and so on.
  • Scoring is determined by the number of bouts won.

2) Swimming

  • Competitors take part in a 200-meter freestyle swim in an Olympic pool.
  • The large field of competitors is broken up into heats dependent on their world pentathlon swimming rankings.
  • Scoring/points are determined by finishing time.

3) Show Riding

  • Competitors are assigned a random horse and given 20 minutes to familiarize themselves with it.
  • The athletes must ride their horses around a course and successfully jump over 12 obstacles.
  • Scoring is determined by the time it takes to clear all obstacles successfully.

4) Combined Shooting and Running 

  • Competitors participate in a two-mile race, stopping four times to shoot at various targets.
  • When shooting, the athlete must score five hits or wait 50 seconds before continuing their run.
  • Each competitor begins this race in a position dependent on their point totals from the previous three events.
  • The winner of this race is the winner of the entire pentathlon.



The pentathlon uses a somewhat complex and confusing scoring system. Each event has a target objective worth a certain number of points. Competitors are awarded bonus points for exceeding this target objective or are deducted points for not meeting this threshold.

1) Fencing

  • Target Objective: Winning 70% of bouts  = 250 points.
  • For the 36-competitor group at the 2020 Olympics, a 70% win rate would equate to beating 25 opponents.
  • For every win above or loss below this 70% (25 wins) target, the competitor gains or loses 6 points.
  • In the bonus round, each victory awards 2 points.

2) Swimming

  • Target Objective: Finish the race in 2 minutes and 30 seconds = 250 points.
  • Every ⅓ of a second (0.333 seconds) above or below this 2:30 target will add or subtract one point from a competitor’s score.

3) Show Riding

  • Target Objective: Successfully clear all obstacles within the time limit = 300 points.
  • This time limit changes depending on the competition venue.
  • Penalties are deducted for poor jumps, missing obstacles, etc.
  • Every second above the time limit results in point deductions.

4) Combined Shooting and Running disciplines

PENTATHLON running shooting
  • Target Objective: Cross the finish line first = win the gold medal.
  • Only the pentathlete who leads in points can start the race.
  • For every one point behind the leader, a competitor must wait an equal number of seconds before they can begin the race.
  • To complete a shooting stop, an athlete must hit five targets or wait until 50 seconds have elapsed.
  • The first athlete to cross the finish line is the winner of the entire pentathlon, regardless of point total.


After the 2020 Toyko Olympics, organizers debated the future of the sport. Particularly, they were looking to modernize the pentathlon even more by eliminating “elitist” barriers and unnecessary costs by removing the show/horse riding event.

After intense discussion and trial and error, organizers and competitors agreed to replace the horse-based event with an obstacle course. This proposed change would see pentathletes complete a 100-meter course containing steps, swings, ramps, wheels, monkey bars, etc.

The 2024 Paris Olympic Games are still scheduled to feature the original equestrian event as part of the pentathlon. However, the 2028 Olympic Games in Los Angeles will likely feature the hotly debated removal of the equestrian event and the addition of the new obstacle course. It looks like the future of modern pentathlon competitions is still up in the air.


The first competitor to cross the finish line in the final combined shooting and running event is the winner of the pentathlon.