Modern Pentathlon


Modern Pentathlon is a multidisciplinary Olympic sport comprising 5 different events: Fencing, Swimming, Showjumping, Running and Shooting. The sport has its origins in Ancient Greece, where the Pentathlon was the centre piece of the Ancient Games. At that time, the sport consisted of running the length of the stadium, jumping, throwing the spear, throwing the discus and wrestling – the attributes considered to define the perfect soldier.

The ‘modern’ version of the sport was defined by the father of the modern games, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, comprising the skills of a modern day soldier: Running, Swimming, Horse Riding, Fencing and Shooting, which in the words of de Coubertin “tested a man’s moral qualities as much as his physical resources and skills, producing thereby the ideal, complete athlete”. The modern version of the sport was introduced to the games in Stockholm in 1912, making it one of the oldest sports in the Olympics.

The sport has evolved over time, and today follows the same format for men and women, consisting of a round robin epee fencing competition, a 200m swim, a round of 1m20 showjumping on a horse unknown to the athlete, and a combined run and shoot (laser pistol) event, all of which take place on the same day.


The competition day begins with fencing. Each athlete fences a 1 minute bout against each competitor (normally a total of 36 athletes) on a win/lose basis. 70% of hits (25 hits in a 36 competitor pool) achieves 1000 pentathlon points. Each hit above or below 70% gets +/-24 points.

The swim event is a 200m time trial in a 25m or 50m pool. A time of 2m30s (men) 2m40s (women) achieves 1000 points, with each second above or below these times worth +/- 12 points.

The riding event requires the athletes to jump a round of showjumping, including a double and a treble, on a horse unknown to the athlete. The athlete is allowed 20 minutes and 5 warm-up jumps to get to know the horse, after which they must complete the 1m20 course. Horses are allocated through a lottery, with athletes awarded 1200 points for a clear round, within the time. Athletes are deducted points for errors (28 points for a knock, 40 points for a stop, etc).

The final event of the pentathlon competition is a combined run and shoot event. The athlete’s points total is converted to a handicap, where the leader starts first, with each following athlete penalised 1 second for every 4 pts they trail the leader after the first 3 events. From the start line, the athletes run into the shooting range, from where they shoot 5 shots as quickly as possible. When they have hit all 5 targets, they proceed to a 1000m run. This is repeated twice more to complete a total of 3000m run and 15 shots. The first athlete to cross the finish line is the overall winner.

At major international competitions (European/World level), athletes complete a semi-final event comprising fence, swim and run/shoot. The top 12 (3 semi-final format) or top 18 (2 semi final format) progress to the full 5-event final 48 hours later. The final always consists of 36 athletes.

International Pentathlon and the Irish Team

Pentathlon Ireland operates a High Performance Programme based out of UCD and Morton Stadium, Santry Dublin. The programme currently consists 3 full time athletes, aiming to qualify for London 2012, and a group of underage development athletes. Pentathlon Ireland retains the services of a full time Performance Director, based in Dublin.

On the international circuit, Pentathlon consists of a World Cup series of 5 competitions around the world, with the top 36 athletes from the series qualifying for the World Cup Final in each year. World Championships and European Championships take place each year, and the Olympic Games the pinnacle event for the sport every 4 years. World and European championships also take place each year for Junior (U21), Youth A (U18) and Youth B (U16) athletes.

National Pentathlon

Modern Pentathlon is a young and developing sport in Ireland. Development competitions and training camps take place throughout the country, with national and regional championships organised each year. The national organisation retains a basic level of equipment for development/training, but athletes are expected to purchase their own fencing and shooting equipment over time. There is no requirement to own a horse to partake in Modern Pentathlon – horses are supplied at the competition. Pentathlon Ireland is also working to develop a national Biathlon (Run/Swim) league.

Pentathlon Ireland maintains a close working relationship with the Irish Pony Club sport of Tetrathlon, which consists of running, swimming, shooting and cross country riding. The sport was adopted from Pentathlon in the 1950s, and the link remains strong – Four Modern Pentathlon medal winners in the last three Olympic Games were ex GB Pony Club tetrathletes. The Irish Pony Club remains a key partner for Pentathlon Ireland, with the top Irish Pentathletes all having developed into the sport from Pony Club Tetrathlon.

For more information on Modern Pentathlon and how to join contact Pentathalon Ireland.

Contact details:
Pentathlon Ireland
c/o Bailey’s, Cluan Orna, The Leas, Swords, Co. Dublin
Tel: +353 (0) 87 6537446
Contact: Karen Kelly, Secretary

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